News / Science & Technology

Science Goes Down Easier With Food, Drinks

Science cafés bring researchers out of the lab and into conversation with regular folks

Organizer Cynthia Wichelman introduces a 'Science on Tap' speaker at the Schlafly Bottleworks.
Organizer Cynthia Wichelman introduces a 'Science on Tap' speaker at the Schlafly Bottleworks.

Multimedia

Audio

Sometimes, science can seem overwhelming.

There are complicated concepts, unimaginably large — or small — objects, and vast distances that most people have a hard time understanding. And scientists often have difficulty explaining what they do in language the public can understand.

But there is a movement to bring scientists out of the lab and into the community for a chat over dinner and drinks.

Most people learn about science in school, from the media, or on the internet. But at a science café, they get to learn about it straight from the scientists themselves.

Audience members enjoy a meal at Herbie's Restaurant before a Saint Louis Science Center Science Café.
Audience members enjoy a meal at Herbie's Restaurant before a Saint Louis Science Center Science Café.

Mixing food and science

For the past four years, Al Wiman has organized a monthly science café for the Saint Louis Science Center in Missouri.  

"A science café, it's a concept that actually started in Europe, and it was an idea to get scientists engaged in an informal conversation with the general public." Wiman says part of what makes science cafés successful is where that conversation takes place: "We have it in the lower level of Herbie's restaurant in the Central West End."

There are now more than 100 science cafés at bars and restaurants throughout the United States. They attract anywhere from a handful to over a 100 people, depending on the topic.

Washington University geophysicist Anne Hofmeister presents her work at 'Science on Tap.'
Washington University geophysicist Anne Hofmeister presents her work at 'Science on Tap.'

'Science on Tap'

St. Louis has two science cafés.

The second one — sponsored by Washington University — meets once a month during the academic year at a bar called the Schlafly Bottleworks.

Organizer Cynthia Wichelman says "Science on Tap" features Washington University professors talking about their research. The events draw a diverse audience.

"We have people who are professionals that range from engineers and physicians, to people that just have an interest in science and may be retired, may not be employed, may be students, and have just an interest in learning more," says Wichelman.

New way to learn

So what brings people out to a bar to talk about science?

Audience member Mike Stuart likes the atmosphere: "It's fun to learn things and enjoy a good beer."

"I was actually really lousy in science class," says audience member Carrie Smothers. "So now I'm picking up the information as I can get it." Smothers laughingly says being at a bar helps the science go down a little more easily.

Ron Rogers is another attendee. He calls science cafés "a civilized education."

"Why aren't more science talks in a bar, right?" asked audience member and former "Science on Tap" speaker Robert Pless. "Like this is the place where you learn and you ask and you understand things most quickly. Instead of a lecture where it's really just a one-way thing."

Audience questions make science cafés come to life

The topics discussed at these science cafés are as varied as scientific research itself: from black holes to biological clocks to botany. But the evening really kicks into high gear after the scientist's presentation ends, when the audience gets to start the conversation:

"Is it still a question as to whether there is a lot more plant diversity in the Andes versus the Amazon?"

"If you're right, what is the origin of the magnetic fields?"

"What is their number one objection to what you're saying?"

And the questions keep coming — sometimes going on for longer than the presentation itself. But the scientists don't seem to mind.

Scientists also enjoy the challenge of a science café

Ivan Jimenez of the Missouri Botanical Garden says he appreciates the chance to talk about his work with people outside the scientific community.

"Scientists often talk to scientists, not very often to non-scientists, so that's kind of exciting, fun." Jimenez says. "Challenging."

But at the science cafés in St. Louis, scientists and non-scientists alike seem up to the challenge.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid