This semester, and especially the last few days, my secondary responsibility beyond my research with serial fiction has been helping out with the 2012 URI Grad Conference. Since I had no actual coursework or teaching responsibilities, I decided to step up and help out in a bunch of different ways. After many weeks of a lot of running around, computer work, and general assistance, the grand day came yesterday and it was a great success. Madame Chair Bridget Heaney has worked super hard and a lot of people have dedicated a lot of time and sweat to make it just as awesome as we all imagined. A great sense of accomplishment is present amongst everyone and it is well deserved. But the time to bask in the glory of victory is fleeting and we must return to our responsibilities, and for me that means that getting back to reading and continuing this blog for enjoyment of writing and for however many readers there are out there.
In the meantime, I still get to gush about cool moments surrounding the conference, especially with the overall amazingness of our keynote speaker Dr. Colin Milburn from UC Davis. Most attendees got to hear his oustanding talk and maybe share a word or two afterwards. I was one of the lucky people who got to share a few meals with him, had him come to my presentation, and even got his autograph in my Master’s thesis to be added alongside all the other people I’ve placed in my bibliography. The talk was a once in a lifetime experience and it’s a shame that it couldn’t be recorded for anyone beyond the select few that were physically there. The one thing that I can provide is a copy of the introduction I did just before the talk. Now you won’t be able to get the original context, tone, hint of nervousness in my voice, and the fact that my hand couldn’t stop shaking a bit. Normal blog stuff should return tomorrow with posts about reading lists and whatnot. Enjoy the intro in the meantime.
Madame Chair, honored guests, distinguished faculty and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. During the arduous search for a keynote speaker that would be willing, available, and knowledgeable in multidisciplinary studies for this conference, Dr. Colin Milburn was suggested by Professor Rita Raley from UC Santa Barbara and he of course gracefully accepted and is with us today. At another conference committee meeting, Dr. Milburn emailed us the title of his keynote speech, Pwning the Environmental Crisis: Videogames and Ecological Anxieties. Much like how I imagine many of your own first impressions upon hearing the title, quizzical looks spread amongst the room; however, I was cheering and very excited. While I had already volunteered to introduce our keynote, the topic of gamer culture and ludology made this an amazing and unique endeavor.
Dr. Milburn’s academic pedigree is certainly impressive. He obtained two Bachelor’s degrees and a Masters from Stanford and a double PhD from Harvard. He joined the faculty of the University of California Davis in 2005. Beyond his work as an associate professor of English, he is a member of the Science and Technology Studies Program and the Center for Science and Innovation Studies, and in 2009 he began working as the director of the UC Davis Humanities Innovation Lab. He is the author of Nanovision: Engineering the Future, which has been well received by members of scientific and literary fields. N. Katherine Hayles even commented that his book “explores the cultural and social implications of nanotechnology through a wide range of material-semiotic-discursive effects. Witty, incisive, and insightful, Nanovision is essential reading for anyone interested in where we are now and where we might be headed.” Dr. Milburn served as one of the editors for Quantum Engagements: Social Reflections of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies. He is currently completing a new book called Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter, which examines the convergence of videogame culture with the molecular sciences. In addition, he has contributed to various journals and books on subjects as varied as Victorian vivisection, videogames, Edmund Spenser, science fiction, history, popular culture, and nanotechnology to name only a few.
It is in the field of nanotechnology where its scale is quite literally beyond our traditional scope of vision that Dr. Milburn truly stands out. For those of you unfamiliar with the field, nanotech works with anything measuring between one and one hundred nanometers, this is 1 to the power of negative 9 meters. The difference between a nanometer and a conventional meter is roughly the equivalent between that of a marble and the size of planet Earth. It is at this incredibly diminutive scale that Dr. Milburn becomes much like Ray Palmer aka The Atom, seamlessly navigating not just between the nano and macro forms of space and matter but also shifting between the fields of art and science. His style is one that illuminates and empowers the reader to understand the potential of something that for all intents and purposes requires faith to accept, since we rarely get to personally see to believe anything existing at the atomic level. His writings embolden us to see that with the proper technology any of us can be like Dr. Manhattan and have control over the most basic building blocks of our world.
For all the praise, I can ascribe to Dr. Milburn as a scientist; it is the integration of science, literature, and cultural studies that truly makes his work a perfect fit for our interdisciplinary conference. One need only read his article in Isis titled Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench, to see how connections can be made between a myriad of topics without losing the reader’s attention. In less than a dozen pages, he links together H.G. Wells, Richard Feynman pioneer of nanotechnology , Roland Barthes of Death of the Author fame, Star Trek slash fanfiction, and real life giant robots made famous in anime. It is at the intersection between the literary, the popular, and the scientific that Dr. Milburn explains how imagination not only leads towards an idea becoming believable but that it can be attainable. To show us how the impossible and the fantastic inspire our anxieties and innovations, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to present to you, Dr. Colin Milburn.