10 Standout Nerds of 2011


Arun Mathews and Francis Kong

Dr. Arun Mathews, a New Mexico-based hospital intensive-care physician, and Dr. Francis Kong, a health information technology consultant in San Francisco, discovered back in medical school that they two things in common: a desire to help people and a love of fantasy gaming. The two stayed in touch as they embarked on their separate careers, and when Mathews got the idea to come up with a fantasy and sci-fi gaming study tool for medical students, he called his old pal to get him onboard as a partner.

In 2008, the outfit, which they dubbed Nerdcore Learning, debuted its first product, and in 2010, they unveiled The Healing Blade, a table-top card battle game that takes place in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy world peopled two rival clans -- the Apothecary Healers, named after real-world antibiotics, and the Lords of Pestilence, who are stand-ins for actual disease-causing bacteria [source: Dolan]. One such villain, for example, is Proteus mirabilis, which also happens to be the name of a bacterium commonly found in the human gastrointestinal tract that can cause infections and the formation of stones if it reaches the urinary tract [source: Murphy]. The Healing Blade's flamboyant, flowery lore is encrusted with details about the treatment of such pathogens, so that the game can help medical students to commit critical information to memory as they take a gaming break from hitting the books [source: Dolan]. In 2011, the company released a beta of a Web-based version of the game.

Mathews told American Medical News that the concept came to him while he was making his rounds in the intensive care unit one evening, when he realized the similarity between the complexity of gaming strategy and the choices he had to make when he was deciding how to treat sick patients with antibiotics [source: Dolan]. A portion of the proceeds from Nerdcore Learning also supports a charitable venture started by the two doctors, which provides Internet-connected gaming consoles to patients in children's hospitals around the country [source: Nerdcore Learning].