My eyes are glazing over. It’s been less than 10 minutes since I slinked into the last row of chairs inside this makeshift outdoor auditorium, where a young woman with a tightly-bound ponytail and a sharp German accent is motoring through a series of PowerPoint slides. Holomorphic modular forms. A partition of a positive integer n. Ramanujan congruences. I always had a knack for math, but my AP algebra training isn’t helping much as I attempt to understand how one indecipherable equation can explain other indecipherable equations that somehow illustrate a point about that first equation and how if you then account for the eigenvalue that’ll bring us all back to Weak Maass Form and did she just invent all of these symbols to fuck with everyone?

A quick glance around the packed room, however, suggests that I’m one of few people who isn’t spellbound by this dizzying theoretical witchcraft. An audience of several dozen attendees, many of them men in wool blazers and the advanced stages of age-related hair loss, nod knowingly and scribble down notes. "What might be the practical applications for this work?" asks one audience member during a question period. The presenter, Kathrin Bringmann of the University of Cologne, laughs. "Of course, this is abstract," she says of her session titled "Dyson’s Rank, Harmonic Weak Maass Form, and Recent Developments." "I’m not exactly going to use it to create the next iPhone or something." The audience chuckles appreciatively. I slide a little further down in my seat, tucking my iPhone into my pocket at the same time. I am unequivocally the stupidest person in this room.