Geek is chic. Ever since TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Mythbusters made brainiacs not just endearing and funny, it's been socially acceptable to be smart. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education has taken center stage, and nerdy is nice.
The Denver/Boulder population is one of the most highly educated in the country, and the Front Range is full of high-powered scientific entities. Not only is it a mini-Silicon Valley for tech entrepreneurs, but it hosts numerous research facilities, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the last the home of the atomic clock). CU-Boulder is practically a feeder school for NASA.
So how do we take advantage of all this nice nerdiness? Where can we hang out to share ideas — and keep learning? Here's a list of twelve places were adults can continue their education in hard science.
12. DMNS Science Lounge
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is expert at reaching all age groups and constituencies, and Science Lounge is not only about adult schmoozing and learning, but engaging in hilarious group projects – such as building geological models with Cocoa Puffs. February’s chocolate-focused event is sold out, darn it, but bookmark the site and check back.
11. Café Scientifique
This open-discussion science group started in November 2003, making it the oldest gathering of its kind in the Western hemisphere, according to organizers. You meet at a bar, an expert gives an informal lecture, you break for drinks, and then everyone discusses the topic. The original café at the Wynkoop is pausing its schedule, but Café Sci2, at Brooklyn’s, is going full steam ahead.
10. Nerd Nite
The Oriental Theater hosts this monthly drink-and-discuss science gathering, which has been operating in Denver for almost two years now. Experts give twenty-minute presentations on stage — while you drink and think.
9. Science on Tap
The Colorado Springs Space Science Center brings its own monthly meetup to Jack Quinn’s in that city’s downtown.
CU's Medical Mini-School.
Photo courtesy University of Colorado
8. CU School of Med Mini-School
CU's original program of free informal medical education, initiated in 1989, proved so popular that it’s now an online course, with modules in anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, immunology, infectious disease, neuroscience and cancer biology. And now there’s Mini Med School II: The Clinical Years, in which practitioners give you the inside story on their work. If you can’t make it to that class in person, there are sites around the state where you can tune in and interact.
New Tech Denver meetup.
7. New Tech Colorado
This 11,000-member group of self-described geeks holds monthly get-togethers in Denver, Boulder, Longmont, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. It's your go-to source for finding out about all the tech and science-oriented meetups in the area, including the now-venerable Techstars.
6. Science Discovery’s Teen Science Café
Once a month, on Wednesday evenings, CU’s Science Discovery program offers a Teen Science Café, at which scientists from a wide range of STEM fields meet and interact informally with visitors.
Photo courtesy CU-Boulder
5. CU Wizards
From September through June, one Saturday a month, you get to go to class and blow stuff up. Okay, there's not an explosion every month, but close. The most inventive interactive science demonstrations in the area take place here, with creative and stimulating lectures on chemistry, biology, applied math, physics and more. Did we mention they blow stuff up?
4. Colorado Physics Events Directory
This page is a great clearinghouse for all the seminars and colloquia associated with CU Boulder, including events through the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, NCAR and others. Geology, plasma studies, energy – there are tons of experts that want to share their interests with the general population.
3. National Renewable Energy Laboratory Education Center
The center offers free education programs for students from elementary through college age, and adult groups are available. There are also monthly tours of the facility, lunch-time and after-hours lectures, and more.
Science on a Sphere.
2. Boulder lab tours
The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics will book private tours for groups between ten and forty people during normal business hours. You can peek at the machine shop where rockets are made, visit the Mission Operations Center, and see a class-10,000 clean room. A weekly tour of the David Skaggs Research Center at NOAA takes you through the Space Weather Prediction Center, the National Weather Service Forecast Office, Science on a Sphere, and more.
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A lawn event at the Chamberlin Observatory.
Photo courtesy Denver Astronomy Society
1. Chamberlin Observatory
Do you know why it’s called Observatory Park? Because there’s an astronomical observatory in the center. Built in 1890, the observatory's 20-inch refracting telescope is still capable of piercing Denver’s now-bright night skies. Now owned now by the University of Denver and administered by the Denver Astronomical Society, it holds periodic open houses, star parties and public nights for observation.