Science on tap brews student interest

| Contributing Repoter

In an effort to make science more accessible and engaging, Science on Tap is reaching out to Washington University students. Hosted in a bar, the program invites interested students to listen to short presentations given by University professors and participate in discussions while enjoying their favorite brew.

Created in the fall of 2005, Science on Tap presents a unique opportunity for professors and students to interact and explore the latest scientific ideas and research topics in a casual, non-academic environment. The meetings are held at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, Mo., a family restaurant with a pleasant ambience renowned for its beer brewery.

“The Washington University faculty has enjoyed the unique open format as well, which has led to many memorable and lively discussions,” said Cynthia Wichelman, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the medical school. Wichelman also organizes and moderates the Science on Tap events.

“The program is a great way to feature the wonderful faculty and research going on at the Danforth Campus in a relaxed setting,” Wichelman said.

Science on Tap was inspired by the Café Scientifique of Leeds, England, which was founded in 1998. Café Scientifique started as an experiment to see if the public would come to attend a science-based discussion. The program was so successful that it caught international attention. The National Science Foundation was particularly struck by the project and adopted many similar programs. Numerous others have since sprouted across the United States and Europe.

The program at the University continues to attract passionate professors and curious students.

“I think this is a great chance for students to not only have enlightening discussions, but also experience the fun side of our professors in an unintimidating environment,” sophomore Helen Xu said.

The forums take place on the last Wednesday of every month from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and feature a 20-minute presentation by a University professor, a seven-minute break, and an hour of casual discussion. Anyone from the University community is welcome, and no scientific knowledge is required. Space is limited to the first 100 attendees, however, and reservations are not accepted.

The next meeting will be on Oct. 28 and will feature the presentation “Mirth Busters: Facts and Fiction of Happiness,” given by Randy Larsen, a professor in the psychology department.

Since its founding, Science on Tap has featured topics and speakers from a multitude of Washington University departments. The professors come from across the academic spectrum, ranging from the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the physics department to the departments of music, film and media studies.

Even Chancellor Mark Wrighton gave a talk on nuclear and solar power in February 2006.

Some talks deal with more current happenings in science. For example, Michael Wysession, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, gave a talk in September 2005 about the Sumatra earthquake.

Others have looked at science in history, including a discussion led by Richard Chapman, senior lecturer in screenwriting, in April 2006 on the Chernobyl disaster’s aftermath 20 years after the explosion.

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