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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid