Science Nerds Get Their Geek on at This Year's Silicon Valley Comic Con

1 min
Lou Ferrigno, the original Hulk, poses for the cameras with a light saber at the fourth annual Silicon Valley Comic Con. (Lowell Robinson/KQED)

An estimated 70,000 are in San Jose this weekend for the fourth annual Silicon Valley Comic Con. How is this con different from all the others? This one has established a reputation for appealing to science nerds, especially.

Materializing on the floor of San Jose’s Convention Center, I found Kimberly Ennico Smith, a research astrophysicist at NASA Ames in Mountain View, who's been involved in a number of cool missions over the years, like the one that found signs of water on the Moon.

"At the time, the Moon was thought to be bone dry. I'm just chuffed that I was part of rewriting the textbooks," Smith said.

What's she up to next? Just another mission to the Moon, "to get wheels on the ground," and continue exploring that water, "which still mystifies scientists today."

NASA Ames astrophysicist Kimberly Ennico Smith is a big fan of Star Trek. "Whenever I see, you know, the captain of the Enterprise saying 'Warp factor 5,' or 'Warp factor 6', boy, do I wish we were traveling the solar system and beyond at those speeds.It took nearly 10 years to send a probe to Pluto. I mean, that is a mission for the patient.”
NASA Ames astrophysicist Kimberly Ennico Smith is a big fan of Star Trek. "Whenever I see, you know, the captain of the Enterprise saying 'Warp factor 5,' or 'Warp factor 6', boy, do I wish we were traveling the solar system and beyond at those speeds.It took nearly 10 years to send a probe to Pluto. I mean, that is a mission for the patient.” (Lowell Robinson/KQED)

Jaya Bajpayee is the Deputy Director for Science at NASA Ames, where she says she functions much like a chief operating officer at a company of roughly 450 people.

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Bajpayee is quick to note NASA is interested in more than space science. "We're also big on life detection, and we lead the agency in space biology," she said, adding that some of that research can be done on Earth, in extreme environments like the outer atmosphere and the Atacama Desert in South America.

"I think this is a great time to be in astrobiology, space biology, even astrophysics," Bajpayee, sounding like an employer hungry for new talent.

People starstruck with real space travel were milling about the NASA Ames booth at Comic Con, including Jamila English, born and raised in San Jose.

Jamila English, on the hunt for a job in the sciences, recalled a famous quote from actress, comedian and  author Whoopi Goldberg: "Without Star Trek, people would still think there were no black people in the future.”.
Jamila English, on the hunt for a job in the sciences, recalled a famous quote from actress, comedian and author Whoopi Goldberg: "Without Star Trek, people would still think there were no black people in the future.”. (Lowell Robinson/KQED)

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"To all the science teachers at James Lick High School in East San Jose, thank you. I’ve always been interested since I was a little kid. Wanted to go to space camp. Wasn’t able to. So now that I have a masters in public policy, I want to work on space policy and I’m trying to figure that out."

English adds the barriers to employment in science can seem "astronomical," and seeing women in science speak on panels at Comic Con "eases the anxiety."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a natural affinity between real scientists and science fiction fans. As the copy for one of the panel discussions this weekend puts it, "The search for extraterrestrial life isn’t just science fiction. It’s a career."

The Silicon Valley Comic Con runs August 16-18, 2019 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. Details here.

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