Curiosity for science doesn’t have to stop at classrooms or laboratories, thanks to Science Cafes, dialogues created to engage communities by presenting science in a casual setting.
University Libraries and the Ohio State chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research honor society, are co-sponsoring a Science Cafe Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Research Commons, a university resource that supports collaborative research, in the 18th Avenue Library.
Science Cafes are held all over the world, but at Ohio State, they are held monthly at various on-campus libraries, said Daniel Dotson, an Ohio State librarian who has helped to organize the events since they began in 2008.
Jamie Tayar, a graduate student in astronomy, spoke about eclipses at a recent Science Cafe and said the casual atmosphere created beneficial conversations.
“There were a lot of questions, but I like encouraging questions,” Tayar said. “You feel like the audience is actually understanding what you’re talking about, and you can actually answer them.”
Attendees of the event Wednesday will hear Clark Larsen, a professor of anthropology at Ohio State, describe what life was like in one of the world’s most ancient cities, said Mark Peeples, an event organizer and former president of both Sigma Xi’s national organization and Ohio State chapter.
“[Larsen] is going to be talking about one of the dig sites in Turkey, which is a 10,000-year-old city,” he said. “By looking at the bones, artifacts and seeds and plants evidence… [scientists have learned] how these people lived, how they were organized and how their society functioned.”
Dotson said past topics have included coyotes, the science of “Doctor Who,” climate change and the opioid crisis. University Libraries and Sigma Xi’s Ohio State chapter encourage the public to contact them through email to suggest speakers or topics they would like to learn more about — including controversial ones.
“Controversial topics usually are very important ones,” Peeples said, citing a talk given about climate change where two world experts displayed its effects using glacier-ice cores. “Those discussions are just fascinating.”
The Science Cafe also is a way for scientists to become better communicators to the public and clear up common misconceptions, Tayar said.
“Science is a process. It’s how you figure things out,” she said. “Once [people] get the information, it’s their choices about what they want to do with that … but they should have the actual information.”
Events in the past have been well-attended by a mixed crowd of people, said Nicole Hernandez, an office associate at the Research Commons.
Public enthusiasm at a Science Cafe can often encourage the science presenter, said Tayar, whose speech had to be relocated to accommodate the higher-than-expected attendance.
“The idea is to reach out to the community, anyone who is interested,” Peebles said. “The idea is to make science available to the public.”