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A nightclub for nerds makes science cool in New York

The Secret Science Club meets once a month, drawing lofty speakers and large numbers of young people, who yearn to discuss sci-tech issues in an informal setting.

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Science chic: Meetings of the Secret Science Club in New York draw people of all ages and interests.

Abigail Krolik/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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A long queue has formed inside Union Hall, a popular club in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, as it does on the first Wednesday of every month. The line snakes through the main room, past the indoor bocce court, and down the narrow stairs to a basement space with a low, stamped-tin ceiling.

The crowd is young and hip, mostly in their 20s and 30s, eager to gain entry to tonight’s hot-ticket entertainment event. Once the doors open, about 50 lucky people secure chairs, while another 50 stand four-deep around the room, and another 50 are gently turned away at the door.

“This is the third time I haven’t made it in,” a disappointed young woman sighs.

A mixtape of music plays through the speakers and the audience sips drinks from plastic cups while waiting for the featured act to begin. It won’t be the latest indie band, or an up-and-coming comedian. This is not the typical New York club scene. This is the monthly meeting of the Secret Science Club.

“Here at the Secret Science Club, all scientists are rock stars,” announces Margaret Mittelbach, one of the group’s founders, introducing the evening’s headliner: a microbiologist from Columbia University, who will talk about vertical farming within skyscrapers to create sustainable ecocities.

“So please give a rock-star welcome to ... Dr. Dickson Despommier.” The audience cheers and whistles for the bearded professor, who looks pleasantly startled as he walks onstage. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Dr. Despommier, squinting into the colored spotlights focused on him. “This is remarkable. An absolute surprise.”

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