The Beer-Guzzling Astrophysicist

Ian W. Nichols’ ’06

Laura C. Mckiernan

Ian W. Nichols ’06's expertise is beer.

At a table in John Harvard’s, the self-proclaimed beer connoisseur has carefully made his selection. He picks up the glass and inspects it with a critical eye. He sniffs, he sips. Then, wrinkling his nose, he puts the glass back down.

“This,” the co-founder of Harvard’s first and only Beer Society says, “is bad beer.”

Beer aside, Nichols is best known on campus for resigning from his post as Undergraduate Council (UC) vice president last May. Nichols was elected as part of a split ticket and served as vice president for five months with rival candidate and current UC president Matthew J. Glazer ’06. However, Nichols denies rumors that tensions with the prez forced his resignation, saying instead that winning had been his only goal. “I’d already won. What more was there for me to do?” Nichols says.

Study, it seems. “Yeah, I’m a badass motherfucker who studies astrophysics,” Nichols deadpans. He researches at an MIT lab, where his latest project involves shipping mice to Mars. He begins to demonstrate the basic physics governing astronomy using his dinner plate: “Were I to spin it like this”—he stops, interrupting himself, and grabs a fork—“better yet, if I sent this fork into space…”

And he is off, gesturing earnestly with his silverware. When he is convinced he has given a sufficient explanation, he stops and jabs absently at his plate. “There’s just too much shit out there,” he concludes, waving a forkful of mashed potatoes.

Though Nichols explains physics with aplomb, it is impossible for him to recount all the escapades of his past three years. From constructing a four-story beer funnel in Pennypacker freshman year to streaking down Mt. Auburn St. brandishing toilet plungers, fun follows Nichols like beer chases mashed potatoes.

But perhaps his most cherished memory is of gathering with friends on the Weeks footbridge to jump off. Naked. “Wear shoes,” Nichols advises. “The water’s nasty.”

As one-time vice-prez of the UC and mice spaceman, Nichols seems like a guy you’d love to hate. But roommate Teymour Shahabi ’06 sees it a different way. “He’s the kind of person that everyone trusts with the party,” Shahabi says. “Everything he does, he does to the max.”