Science Caf‚ serves more than coffee

Margy Levinson

Students can now drain their coffee cups while engaging in conversation topics from outer space to biology at the Saint Louis Science Center’s Science Caf‚. Held every Thursday, the new program will provide an environment that promotes the discussion of intriguing and controversial subjects led by scientific experts.

Raymond Arvidson, chairman of Earth and Planetary Sciences and deputy principal investigator for the Mars Rover Mission, was the Caf‚’s first expert to lead discussion.

According to Al Wiman, vice president for public understanding of science at the St. Louis Science Center, the idea for a science caf‚ is not unique to St. Louis.

“It originated in England, and I think there are maybe 15 or so of these around the United States,” said Wiman.

The program’s coordinators expect the series to be well received by the community. St. Louis is known for its large populace of technically oriented residents due to the presence of Boeing, Monsanto, Emerson electric and other high tech companies.

Arvidson noted that places such as Washington University, St. Louis University (SLU) and University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) have “a large community of people who appreciate science and are hungry for information.”

“[The caf‚ is] an opportunity to engage the public in the topics of science and to give people an up-close and personal encounter with the scientists,” said Arvidson.

The speaker for each Science Caf‚ gives a short presentation and then bounce from table to table to answer questions and spur dialogue.

“It will give people speed dating with scientists and provide an opportunity to talk to the scientists one on one to learn more about the topic. [The audience] will hopefully have a greater appreciation of the work of the presenter and for science,” said Arvidson.

Plans for the Science Caf‚ began about five years ago. Wiman explained that the Science Center wanted to do a weekly program but didn’t want to conflict with other events on campus or with SLU programs.

The Science Caf‚ discussion yesterday focused on the Mars Rover Mission. Arvidson worked in collaboration with a professor at Cornell University and NASA on the two Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that were launched in January of 2004.

“We expected these rovers to last 90 days and now we’re over 900 days. They are ten times over their mission length time, which is kind of neat,” said Arvidson.

“In terms of Spirit, we landed on volcanic plains that are billions of years old.and then Opportunity is on the other side of the planet and landed on a plains area,” explained Arvidson.

Upcoming discussion topics include stem cell research, biodiversity and genetic modification. A presentation on stem cell research, a key issue in the upcoming election, is scheduled before voters turnout at the November polls.

The Science Caf‚ takes place Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Saint Louis Science Center. Arvidson encourages students to attend.

“We’re very excited about the guests who are coming [and] we hope this will be the beginning of a new tradition at the Saint Louis Science Center,” said Arvidson.

For more information on tickets, visit

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