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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid