Ten Famous Nerds

posted on 3/15/14

Everyone loves a nerd. According to 80’s movies, there used to be a time when being the biggest dork on earth made you the target of bullying and ridicule, but these days it seems like American culture has made its peace with the idea that jocks tend to peak in high school, while nerds go on to run the world. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of ten of our favorite nerds from throughout history.

Steve Jobs
steve jobs wp Love him or hate him, you probably own at least one piece of technology that he’s pioneered. iPhones, iPods, iPads and the myriad other products with a lowercase ‘i’ in front of them are pretty much ubiquitous for modern technofiles. And can you believe that he did it all as a college dropout?! Steve Jobs only attended Reed College for six months before dropping out and eventually founding Apple, Inc. Who said that all nerds are only book smart?

Mark Zuckerberg
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Good ol’ Zucker-nerd was named Time’s “Man of the Year” in 2010, and had the distinguished honor to be portrayed as kind of a dick in the pseudo biographical box-office smash hit “The Social Network.” As of 2013, Zuckerberg’s estimated wealth is right around 13.3 billion dollars. Yep, that’s “billion” with a “b”, as in “Boy, I wish I had Mark Zuckerberg money.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson
neil degrasse tyson
Neil DeGrasse Tyson might be the internet’s favorite scientist; his sharp wit and deft use of social media have made him a pop cultural icon among the younger generation of science enthusiasts. He is an astrophysicist (quite possibly the coolest kind of scientist) and is currently the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He is also famously the host of Nova ScienceNow. Now that’s a nerd I can get behind.

Carl Sagan
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Carl Sagan, another dearly beloved astrophysicist, can be thought of as the Neil deGrasse Tyson for a slightly older generation of nerds. He is perhaps best knownfor his PBS series “Cosmos”, which introduced several generations (my own included) to the wonders of astronomy. He was also a wellspring of memorable quotations, including “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must start by creating the universe”, and “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” What a man.

Albert Einstein
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I’m guessing that anyone who’s reading this doesn’t need a basic introduction to who Albert Einstein is–he’s the nerd who came up with the theory of relativity (both general and special) and was a consultant on the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb–so instead, let me just hit you with a few lesser-known fun facts about the guy. He dropped out of high school and failed his first college entrance exam, he was considered Public Enemy Number One in Nazi Germany, and he hated wearing socks.

Jules Verne
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Jules Verne is my personal favorite science fiction nerd of all time. Though he died shortly after the turn of the 20th century (in March of 1905, to be precise), his wildly imaginative and well thought-out science fiction novels have proven startlingly prescient in several instances. He is the second most translated author in history–right behind Agatha Christie. One surprising fact about Verne is that he is considered heavily influential in European literary circles as a pioneer of avant-garde/post-modern literature–a fact that might shock many English-speaking readers.

Marie Curie
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Marie Curie’s tale is certainly a tragic one. She was a Polish-born physicist and chemist who is perhaps best known for her work on radioactivity, particularly her discovery of the element Radium. Her life’s work won her several Nobel Prizes and contributed significantly to our understanding of radioactive elements–including the fact that they can cause great harm to organic tissue. Marie Curie died in 1934 as a result of a plastic anemia, widely believed to have been caused by her prolonged exposure to radioactive elements. To this day, all of her equipment and even her journals are stored in lead-lined containers and can only be handled with radiation-proof hazmat suits.

Octavia Butler
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Science fiction has long been considered a boys’ club, and for decades was dominated by Caucasians as well. So it’s really quite remarkable that Octavia Butler, a woman of color born in 1947, rose to prominence as one of this generation’s most distinguished science fiction writers. During her lifetime she was the recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards–science fiction’s two highest honors. She’s an inspiration to nerds everywhere.

Ban Zhao
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Ban Zhao is widely considered to be the first Chinese female historian. She is famous for finishing her brother’s work, the Book of Han (a history of the Western Han), after his execution. She also had a keen interest in science, particularly mathematics and astronomy. She also wrote a treatise on conduct for women, advising them to be submissive…. but hey, this was almost two thousand years ago, so we can hardly hold her accountable to modern cultural standards. Better to remember her as a righteous nerd who really dug on some history.

Tina Fey
tina fey wp If there’s a person on earth who doesn’t love Tina Fey, I want them found and shot. She started her comedy career as a member of Chicago’s famous Second City improv group, and went on to be a writer for Saturday Night Live before moving on to become the head writer and co-star of NBC’s 30 Rock–where one of her catch-phrases is literally “Nerds”. She also wrote such modern comedy classics as Mean Girls, Baby Mama and Date Night. All in all, she’s pretty spectacular.

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