Making Science Fun

The Science Café series is sneaky education

courtesy of science cafe
A previous Science Café on telemedicine

Civilized conversations about science are hard to come by; politics almost always ruins them. Expect a screaming match or two if people with differing political opinions start talking about climate change, for instance.

In an effort to flip that script, in 2011, Dan Marcek, a UNH computer science grad who worked 20 years with HP, and Sarah Eck, who earned her PhD from Dartmouth College in 2009 studying breast cancer, decided to bring Science Cafés to New Hampshire to drum up some civil science discussions.

Science Cafés are conversational Q&As held in bars and coffeehouses around the state regarding scientific issues relevant to New Hampshire. The informal events ease the interaction between science, research and the general public in casual atmospheres. 

“Grabbing a beer and a burger and talking about technical issues is a fun way to spend the evening,” says David Brooks, a Concord Monitor reporter who publicizes (and sometimes emcees) the events. “We want society to be talking about these issues or at least thinking about them from a scientific point of view instead of just from a knee-jerk, screaming political point of view,” he adds.

Intriguing topics have ranged from the Zika virus to heroin to self-driving cars, plus the science of brewing, gene therapy and dozens more. Some of the featured panelists have included state officials, alternative medicine practitioners, farmers, and academics from UNH, UMass Lowell and Dartmouth. 

The events are free (yes, free) and are held at The Draft Sports Bar in Concord on the third Tuesday of each month (6-8 p.m.) and Killarney’s Irish Pub in Nashua on the first Wednesday of the month (6-8 p.m.). The series takes a break in the months of December, July and August. If you’re itching to hop into the science fun right now, you can also check out the similar but unrelated Science on Tap series hosted by the See Science Center. These discussions are held on the first Tuesday of each month at Manchester’s Stark Brewing Company (planned through June 2017).

Science Café has no governing body, and anyone can organize his or her own events. Every month there are hundreds of Science Cafés going on around the country.

“It’s been magnified around the state, and more and more people have started them,” Marcek says. “The success of it is because we are trying to educate ourselves and understand things better. It has proved to be a powerful tool.”

Science Café crowds are mostly made up of middle-aged people with a sprinkling of college students. The latter is a demographic Marcek is keen to attract. For future events, he hopes to widen Science Café’s appeal to more millennials. Extending its reach is critical, he adds, since today’s young adults will soon be the ones confronting the challenges of tomorrow.

“They are the ones who are going to be making decisions about where the world goes, and they need to be well-versed in the facts, not what we hear on the internet,” Marcek says.

While vitriol has dominated countless conversations this election season, fed-up people have begun to turn away from the bickering and are embracing fact-based, low-key and fun Science Cafés to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about prevalent scientific issues.

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