Meet the women who made a home for Miami’s nerds

When Melissa Osorio moved to Miami three and a half years ago, she wanted to know where all the nerds were at.

In New York, where she used to live, she was a regular at Nerd Nite, a monthly event featuring presentations from smart folks around the city — talking about everything from the science of the Simpsons to weird things insects do. There was, of course, beer, trivia, and all the shenanigans.

Nerd Nites happen all over the world in more than 90 cities — but Osorio couldn’t find anything like it in Miami. So, she set out to create one. She wrote to the Nerd Nite HQ and they put her in touch with Laura Chaibongsai, another local interested in starting the event.

Chaibongsai is the outreach manager at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and was looking for ways to communicate hard sciences to the masses. Her brother-in-law frequently hosted Nerd Nites in Austin, Texas, and told her about the event around the same time Osorio also started asking questions.

“We met up for the first time at Panther Coffee [in 2014] about starting Nerd Nite here and how to get it started and potential venues,” Osorio recalls.

Gramps came up, and after that first meeting, the two women simply walked over and asked the owner if they could host the monthly event in the Wynwood bar. He said yes.

Just like that, Nerd Nite was born.

“It really was that easy. From the beginning — the first Nerd Nite was October 2014 — we had an incredible response. Miami … was super supportive, there was a yearning for this type of thing and it wasn’t available,” Osorio remembers. “We even had crews from local news stations there like ‘There are nerds in Miami?’”

Now, two and a half years later, the event has been happening without fail on the second Thursday of every month at Gramps. The night kicks off around 6 p.m. with bar games like a boozy spelling bee, chemistry bingo, or Cards against Humanity. The presentations start at 7:30 p.m. There are usually three of them, with trivia in between, complete with appropriate prizes like Nerd rope candy.

Both Chaibongsai and Osorio work on programming and selecting speakers together. Chaibongsai gravitates toward the hard sciences, while Osorio fills in the social sciences. The combo ensures every night is packed with a wide variety of topics. They’ve had presentations on everything from shark experts to juggling.

“That’s my favorite thing about it,” Chaibongsai said. “How you get insight into how interesting so many different things are and feel enthusiasm about a wide variety of topics.”

Once, a presenter spoke about board games, and the crowd got so excited that a bunch of them said they were going go out and buy board games afterwards, Chaibongsai laughed.

“What makes a good speaker is someone who is very passionate about their topic. It doesn’t have to be their career … anything you’re nerdy about, you can talk about,” Osorio said.

And sometimes they choose speakers that relate to current events. When Zika was spreading around Wynwood, a mosquito expert came out to explain how the virus works and how people should protect themselves. It was also meant to show people that it was okay to be out there because this mosquito expert was there, Chaibongsai explained.

More recently, they had a speaker trace the worst presidents in history to ease up some of the anxieties surrounding the election season.

The event typically garners a crowd of at least a hundred people, made up both of dedicated regulars and newcomers.

“Miami is a smart place,” Chaibongsai said.

“I don’t think before starting Nerd Nite, I expected the response. It’s a big city, so you can always get a decent number of people to come to anything, but to maintain and increase our audience and have people come month after month — it shows there are smart, nerdy people who want to learn more,” she added.

“A lot of nerd friendships have been made.”