The professor wound up his talk as a faint wisp of French fries hovered in the room and the strains of an old Elton John song drifted in from the piped-in music in the room next door.
As he took a question from the audience that gathered around small candle-lit tables, a waitress made her rounds. Before he answered the question, he took a sip from a newly-filled pint of stout.
Obviously, it wasn’t in a lecture hall and the occasion wasn’t a technical lecture in an academic building. It happened in the Morgantown version of what is called a science caf� – an approach to talking about science that is growing in popularity in higher education towns across America.
A science caf� is a casual meeting in a relaxed atmosphere with food and drink where researchers and experts engage in conversations about science in plain language with people who simply have a curiosity about the topic rather than an obligation to attend.
The trend started in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s, caught on in the US and is now a fixture with growing popularity at West Virginia University.
In Morgantown, the caf� is known as “Science on Tap” where professors rub elbows with people interested in learning about their work in a non-traditional setting. The next event is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 at the Morgantown Brewing Company when Jim Belanger, associate professor of biology at WVU will talk about “Scents of Direction: what Moths Taught the US Navy about Finding Things by Smell.”
The idea for “Science on Tap” arose during Belanger’s graduate course “Communicating Science to the Public.”
“It is a trend that presents a great opportunity for people to learn about scientific topics from some of our best professors in an atmosphere that is quite different from the classroom,” Belanger explained. “You don’t have to be a student, staff or faculty member at the University to attend. You just have to have a desire to learn and enjoy informal discussion.”
The events are traditionally held monthly and a growing number of Morgantown residents are gathering for lectures, food, drink and talk about topics from physics, and ecology to crime forensics and energy research.
Bea Vianna, is a biology graduate student in the class who proposed the idea and helps organize the “Science on Tap” events.
“Each meeting is organized around an interesting topic,” she said. “A scientist usually gives a brief presentation that could even include a video to kick off discussion and then the open talk begins. And, you can come and go as you please unlike a classroom.”
WVU has been emphasizing effective scientific communication and recently concluded a day-long symposium dedicated to the practice. The “Science on Tap” approach is a monthly continuation of that effort.
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