Saint A’s professor reaches for the stars, attends panel at Dragon Con

Emily Craig, Crier Staff

This past Labor Day weekend, Professor Nicole Gugliucci, Ph.D., of the Saint Anselm Physics department attended a convention down in Atlanta, Georgia, known as Dragon Con. While there, she sat on a variety of panels focused on both space and science programming, featuring fellow attending professionals and popular guests.

From the Dragon Con website: “Over nearly three decades, Dragon Con has grown from the little Atlanta convention… to one of the largest pop culture conventions in the world.” The first convention was held in 1987, where “Pat Henry, David Cody, John Bunnell and Robert Dennis rounded out with a few of their friends planned the first Dragon Con.”

In 2009, Professor Gugliucci was approached by some friends who thought she would be interested in the convention. She said her friends had pointed out her affinity for “nerdy things” and encouraged her to make the trip down to Atlanta for the weekend. She had been in graduate school at the University of Virginia at the time.

Dragon Con, like other large conventions, “combine[s] literature, television & movies, comics and gaming.” The convention hosts several tracks of interest that hosts panels and other events; one of the most popular is the Trek Track, for which Gugliucci sat on a panel to talk about physics and Star Trek.

“[Back in 2009] I heard that they have these programming tracks for each type of fandom,” said Gugliucci. “So, you know, there’s a Star Trek track… they have military sci-fi for things like Stargate and Battlestar Galactica…, but they have special tracks for science and space programming. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll check this out!’”

Now Gugliucci sits on as many as eight panels.

“This was definitely one of the busiest cons I’ve had,” she said. “Some were on the space track, some on the science track… I talked about megastructures in space on the sci-fi [literature] track with Larry Niven, who wrote Ring World, one of the big books in that genre.”

A little over five years ago, Gugliucci began to propose panels of her own. Just about anyone can attend Dragon Con, as is standard for most conventions open to the public. However, once Gugliucci earned her Ph.D. in Astronomy in 2012, the team at Dragon Con accepted her as an attending professional.

“[The convention has] guests like William Shatner, but then they have attending professionals,” Gugliucci explained. “So it’s like ‘I’m not super famous, but I am an expert in something!’”

As an attending professional, Gugliucci proposed panels to be on the space track. On these panels, she does “a lot of talking about the science of science fiction. Some [of the panels] are silly, some are serious, and some are both.”

Given that Gugliucci attends so many panels, she was asked if there was any panel in particular that was her favorite.

“Different panels are fun for different reasons,” said Gugliucci. “I really enjoyed the Star Trek physics panel because I knew the other two panelists I was working with, and we’re all either women in physics, astronomy, or one of them is in geoscience. I liked that it was a panel full of women in science but it wasn’t about women in science.”

She said several audience members approached her and the other panelists afterwards, commenting how great it was that the entire panel was made up of women, which Gugliucci noted was “really cool.”

In terms of a “the silliest” panel she attended, Gugliucci participated in “the Science Team-up Quiz Show.” She explained the quiz show involved pairing several scientists at the convention with a random audience member and giving the pairs questions outside of their expertise.

“It got rather silly and rather fun, but I think we came in second,” said Gugliucci.

As for other events throughout the year, Gugliucci mentioned how she has “given talks at some local things here [in the Manchester area].” She has also given talks with the New Hampshire Astronomical Society, which meets once a month and holds half of their meetings here on campus, while the other half are held in Concord.

Professor Gugliucci also does a couple of other conventions throughout the year. At the end of the month, she will attend Geek Girl Con, located in Seattle, Washington, where she will do various hands-on science demonstrations and activities with children and adults.