Talking Science at Dragon*Con 2011

It took me a while to realize how much science content there was at Dragon*Con, mainly because I was distracted by Steampunk Zombie Marvel Superheroes Made of Cardboard and Patrick Stewart. Now that I give talks for and hang out around the “reality tracks” in the Hilton (i.e. Space, Science, EFF, Robotics, and Skeptics), I know there’s a tremendous amount of science stuff at the convention. For instance, this year alone we had a solar telescope and a working fusion reactor. We also electrocuted a pickle for science.

All three of my solo talks were well-attended, even my one on D-Wave One and quantum computing that took place on Friday at 11:30 AM. That’s right, for the EFF track’s second panel I talked about qubits and quantum superposition. Thank goodness the audience pretended to be interested! I’ve included my slides and the scripts for my talks. In the scripts, advance the filmstrippresentation every time you see a #. Note that all of my slides use the free font Fontin Sans, and that the online versions aren’t exactly converted properly.

First up, D-Wave One! Learn about quantum computers, qubits, and how many different images I have for “dooooomed”.

(Grab the script | Download the presentation)

Next is Planet Hunting, describing our successful search for planets outside our solar system. I believe this is the world’s first science presentation to combine astrophysics and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (Note: ponies are used strictly for pedagogical purposes.)

(Grab the script | Download the presentation)

Finally there was my robot helicopter talk. This was my busman’s holiday, as a lot of what I talked about is directly relevant to my day job.

(Grab the script | Download the presentation)

Finally I once again took part in the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow panel, which packed the Hilton Crystal Ballroom. This was something of a science variety show. I got to talk about the leukemia trial that involved patching a patient’s t-cells to replicate like mad and attack the leukeima, said patching being done via a modified HIV variant, and if that doesn’t sound like mad science, I don’t know what is. Jason Schneiderman talked about using magnets to turn off people’s ability to make moral judgements and showed videos of MRI machines sucking in wrenches and office chairs and guns. Paul Gregori electrocuted a pickle to show electroluminescence and then made people in the audience eat the pickle. Chad Ramey showed off his working fusion reactor. And special guest Phil Plait was escorted to the stage by stormtroopers, where he got to talk about death from above and accept an award for Mad Scientist of the Year.

I had a great time with all of those panels, and I hope that attendees both enjoyed them and learned a bit of science at them.

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