Nerd Nite October: 3 Years, 3 Talks!

catspace2October 10th, 7:00pm
World War II Club (The Deuce)
50 Conz Street, Northampton
We can’t believe it’s been three years already! To commemorate this event, we will be having three presenters at 15 minutes each (instead of 20). Also as a throwback to the very first Nerd Nite in history, we have someone speaking about birds.

Free snacks and giveaways will be provided as well. We hope you will come celebrate with us!

$5 Entry. Guests under 21 years are welcome in the banquet room area, but are restricted from the front bar, so please have your ID on you if you’d like to order alcoholic beverages.

A Game of Cat & Mouse: How One Parasite Hijacks Brains and Manipulates Behavior
by Dan Vahaba

Does free will exist? While we like to think we’re in charge of our own actions, the notion of free will is greatly challenged by parasitic organisms that hijack the brains of other animals. Brain parasites come in many flavors and exert major influence on the behavior of their hosts in order to reproduce, but one particularly fascinating species is the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii (“toxo” for short). Toxo is a unicellular organism that can only reproduce in the gut of cats, but when it ends up in rodents, it manipulates their brain and behavior in a big way. My talk will focus on the life cycle of toxo, how it ends up in and impacts rodents, and what it does to find its way back into cats. At the end of the talk, I’ll discuss the possibility of toxo’s influence on humans.

Dan Vahaba is an owner of two hopefully toxo-free felines (Peanut and Leon), as well a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience & Behavior program at UMass Amherst. His dissertation research has nothing to do with brain parasites, but instead explores how brain estrogens facilitate communication learning and auditory processing in songbirds.

How Diversity Improves Systems
by Presley Pizzo

Diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry, but we often assert that it’s important without explaining why. I’ll argue that gender and racial diversity, biodiversity, and even diversity of inanimate resources all benefit us in the same fundamental way.

Presley Pizzo is a software engineer at Originate. She has a PhD in linguistics from UMass Amherst and a penchant for metalworking. She works with leadership and the grassroots diversity initiative at Originate to improve diversity and inclusivity in the company.

Neotropical Migrant Birds: Why Conservation in Panama Matters in Massachusetts
by Ezekiel Jakub & Melva Olmos

Migratory birds such as the warblers, flycatchers, and raptors are some of the most enjoyable and anticipated birds to watch during our spring and summer. These migrants spend, in fact, most of their lives not with us in Massachusetts but in the new world tropics (“Neo-tropics”) including Mexico, Central and South America.

In a rapidly developing and globalized economy of the Republic of Panama, conservation has not been a priority. Loosing land to forest fragmentation, loosing forests due to illegal logging, poor funding for the environmental ministry, and only “paper parks” have made conservation of wildlife difficult! Lacking public funds and commitment conservation is largely a “privatized” movement by non-profit organizations, land owners, and community groups.

Come enjoy an evening with Ezekiel Jakub (Executive Director and Ornithologist) and Melva Olmos (President and Jaguar Biologist) of Conservación Panamá and a kaleidoscope of photographs, sounds, and video of a tropical paradise in danger! Learn about our work towards neo-tropical migrant conservation and what you can do!

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