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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Science forums unite public, experts

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, March 2, 2007

When I arrived at the Varsity Theater on Feb. 13, I was greeted by a most welcome sight: multigenerational mingling (facilitated by our dear friend alcohol), comfortable chairs and dim, moody lighting. There was a couch onstage, and the men who would soon be occupying the couch were greeting a few friends and securing their last beers before taking their places.

This wasn't a comedy show or a party. It was a discussion about science.

Two years ago, the Bell Museum of Natural History, located on the University of Minnesota campus, decided to launch a Café Scientifique program. Café Scientifique is a global project that aims at getting regular adults to interact with members of the scientific community. The goal of the program is to get people educated about science, especially science as it intersects with public policy.

While Oles who major in humanities may rue their time spent in natural science and math general education courses, many adults are wishing they had received a better background in science, or that they had opportunities to brush up on concepts that they haven't seen since high school. In a science-and-technology-based society, many adults are confronted with news stories and political issues that require knowledge of scientific topics that they simply don’t know about. Café Scientifique offers a chance to get that knowledge. Topics range from the biology of contraception to the physics of bowling and nanotechnology.

The fun thing about Café Scientifique is that it's geared towards adults and laypeople. The emphasis is definitely on the "adult" part of the audience. Some of the advertisements for events are crudely funny, and booze flows freely throughout the night. The atmosphere is fun and informal. It feels like an intimate little café, with people clustering around tables, chatting right up until the presentation starts.

If you've never been to the Varsity Theater, where these events are held, it's a lovely little venue with a very posh, romantic look to it.

Café Scientifique really puts a human face on complex issues. It brings scientists out of the lab and makes understanding how the world operates an exciting endeavor.

The majority of the evening is spent with the scientist or panel of scientists answering questions. At the Feb. 13 event, "Understanding Evolution,” the guest panel was made up of Scott Lanyon, P.Z. Myers and Mark Borello, all professors employed in the University of Minnesota conglomerate. I was really happy with how accommodating the panelists were to the audience – questions were never too basic or too complex to be answered and discussed. This is a good environment for anyone to come, discuss and learn.

From the perspective of a science student, going to Café Scientifique (as well as the other events through the Bell Museum) is one of the best things you can do as someone interested in science. Being at St. Olaf can be insular. The school does their best to bring in speakers, but Café Scientifique gives you a good chance to mingle with older scientists and students from other schools that can get lost in the "mingle in your preordained clique, then see a lecture" format of events at St. Olaf.

There's something liberating about being introduced into an assemblage of college students and adults and just meeting people and shooting the breeze about science. I'd recommend these events to anyone wanting to feel more like a part of a community in science.

A calendar of upcoming Café Scientifique events can be found at

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