Bill Gates once famously said, "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." Nowadays, chances are even greater that when you go home, it'll be a nerd who's entertaining you. Nerds have pervaded every aspect of pop culture, from their humble beginnings as incredibly smart, socially awkward people who have intense knowledge, poor people skills and wear thick glasses all to incredibly smart, socially awkward people who have intense knowledge, poor people skills and who occasionally wear contacts. (For the record, geeks can be much the same, but don't have that redeeming intelligence -- e.g. Napoleon Dynamite). Topless Robot is proud to celebrtae of the greatest and most famous nerds in pop culture.
10) Gordon Freeman from Half-Life
Scientist? Check. Thick, non-trendy glasses? Check. Crippling social anxiety that renders him utterly unable to speak to others? Check. Sure, he might know his way around a crowbar, but there's no way Mr. Freeman doesn't have an old X-files poster somewhere in his research laboratory.
9) Urkel from Family Matters
Originally just a one-shot character, the booksmart but otherwise horrible Urkel was a smash hit for ABC's TGIF series and eventually became its most popular character. For a period in the '90s, America could not get enough of the tuba playing, cheese (and scenery) eating, bespectacled nerdling. So much so, that Urkel is as indicative of the 1990s as flannel shirts and Pauly Shore, two other things we hope never return to the public consciousness.
8) Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds
Lewis and his partner Gilbert put nerdkind on the map in their 1984 feature Revenge of the Nerds; what puts Lewis apart from his geeky comrades is his "unique" laugh and incredible drive to be accepted as a "norm," as evidenced by Lewis' refusal to settle for a nerdy chick and break himself off a piece of Pi cheerleader (although the way he did it is likely considered rape). Lewis is truly a nerd to remember.
7) Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory
This cartoon scientist was as smart as he was short, and he was ludicrously short. Although he was able to build virtually any device -- not the least of which was his massive lab, hidden underneath his parents' suburban home -- he was frequently defeated by his own reach and his idiotic sister Deedee. Best of all, he spoke with an accent as thick as his glasses, which none of his other family members had.
6) Data from The Goonies
The Goonies were not particularly cool, but they were certainly awesome -- and none were more awesome than the group's nerdiest member, Data. Kids didn't want to be the Sean Astins or Corey Feldmans or Chunks; they wanted to be Data, because he was the kid who knew how to make a belt that shot a goddamn suction cup. Where would the Goonies be without Data? They'd be floating corpses in Pirate's Cover, that's where.
5) The Eltingville Club (group tie)
Comic creator Evan Dorkin has truly captured the dark side of fandom with this group, a smelly zit encrusted cadre, who while they share similar interests, ultimately view each other as competition. These unpopular dorks would step over each other's mothers for the last Spawn variant cover on the shelf. If you've ever been to a con or perhaps worn Vulcan ears, you'll be able to relate to somewhat these characters, as they are always present in the deepest recesses of your soul. Which will either make you laugh or feel suicidal; it's really up to you.
4) Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory
This child prodigy started college at 11, graduated at 14, got his doctorate at 16, and it utterly, unapologetically, a nerd. He has built death rays, reconciled the black hole information paradox, and added Spock and Lizard to Paper-Rock-Scissors. He has no social niceties and does not care, with the possible exception of his hot neighbor Penny. Truly, he is a nerd's nerd, and would be the first to tell you so... after he reminds you how much smarter he is than you.
3) Peter Parker
Sure, Clark Kent is a dweeb, but underneath his awkward exterior that is the world's most powerful human being. When Spider-Man goes home, he gets to be Peter Parker, a shy loner who talks entirely too much to himself and despite being a scientific whiz kid, doesn't seem to be able to figure out how to make having freaking super powers work in his favor. At present, Marvel still has him living with his elderly aunt, exponentially increasing his nerdiness.
2) Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons
The Simpsons' Jeff Albertson, a.k.a. Comic Book Guy, is such a popular character mostly because there's a Jeff Albertson in every town in America. One only has to visit a convention dealer's room to see a surly behemoth letting his misanthropy get in the way of what ironically is a frivolous entertianment. CBG is also a renaissance nerd, as he can pontificate about baseball cards as well as he can discuss Dungeons & Dragons, and do both speaking Klingonese -- although 99% of his conversation will be about how these things suck and used to be much, much better. Truly, he is a nerd for all seasons.
1) Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pay no attention to immensely powered witch who hooked up with the ladies and occasionally flayed bastards alive -- underneath that person is Willow Rosenberg, the gawky, overall-wearing computer genius who was overjoyed to be befriended by a cool kid like Buffy and longed for smart aleck Xander. Eternally made fun of by Cordelia and the other cheerleaders, young Willow would use her smarts to research news and demons on the burgeoning World Wide Web, which was a mystery to even Giles (he preferred his books). It was that nerdiness that in fact led her to research magic and become the magical badass she ended up at the end of the series. The lesbianess? That appears to be Oz/Seth Green's fault.