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The Sciences

Cafe Scientifique Syracuse - An Update

Cosmic VarianceBy Mark TroddenApril 5, 2006 4:47 PM


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It's been a while since I wrote about Cafe Scientifique Syracuse. You might recall that I originally posted about setting up Cafe Scientifique, and later reported on the first meeting. Now, all of a sudden, we've had our eighth meeting and so this seems like a good time to tell you how it's going. Before last night's meeting, our previous seven topics were

  • What Use is the Human Genome Project? (Scott Erdman, Biology Department, S.U.)

  • From Sherlock Holmes to CSI: Chemistry as a Forensic Science (James Spencer, Chemistry Department, S.U.)

  • 14.1 Billion Years of Cosmic History in 20 Minutes (Mark Trodden, Physics Department, S.U.)

  • The Looming Energy Problem: How Can Research Help? (Francis DiSalvo, Cornell Center for Materials Research, Cornell University)

  • The Science and Ethics of Stem Cell Research (Mark Noble, Department of Biomedical Genetics, University of Rochester Medical Center)

  • How Do We Know Evolution Really Happened? (Linda Ivany, Department of Earth Sciences, S.U.)

  • The Unconscious Perpetrator: A Social-Psychological Perspective on Stigma (Collette Eccleston, Department of Psychology, S.U.)

We felt that all of these meetings went extremely well, yielding an audience between 30 and 50 each time, a lively discussion period and generally a good time had by all. A couple of weeks ago, however, we had a short meeting to evaluate how we are doing and what we might consider changing to tweak and improve how Cafe Scientifique performs. As a result, we have widened our advertising (to try to attract more non-academics and to make sure we reach as much of the medical community as we can); we have begun using a P.A. system (because we were finding that, for most if not all speakers, some people in the room were having trouble following the discussion session); we decided to allow the use of media in the talks (such as a few powerpoint slides, since we felt this would be great for certain topics, although we did worry a little that it might formalize things a little too much); we resolved to keep our time schedule more strictly (20 minutes for talks, 10 minute break, 1 hour discussion); and we have tried to get our line-up of speakers sorted out further in advance (again, to help with advertising). Our hosts - Ambrosia restaurant in Armory Square in downtown Syracuse - are extremely flexible and helpful and so we were able to make the physical changes to the format rather seamlessly. Last night was the first meeting after we made these changes, and so I was particularly interested to see how things went. Here's our usual announcement

Please join us at the next Cafe Scientifique, Tuesday April 4, where the topic will be: Black Holes, Einstein and Spacetime Ripples The discussion will be initiated by a 20-minute presentation by Prof. Peter Saulson from the Physics Department at Syracuse University. Prof. Saulson has worked on gravity wave detectors for the past fifteen years and is spokesperson of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment. This exciting field of research promises a real chance of confirming the existence of gravity waves and will not only provide a new check of general relativity, but also open a new and dramatically distinct observational window for astronomy. The Cafe takes place at Ambrosia Restaurant, Armory Square in Syracuse, at 7 pm. There is a $5 door charge, but this will cover some delicious snacks provided by Ambrosia, and our own bartender so that we don't have to go into the main part of the restaurant to order drinks. As usual, we waive the cover charge for all students -- just identify yourself as such. Cafe Scientifique Syracuse is supported in part by funds provided by the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics and Psychology and the Soling Program of Syracuse University. See you there!

Well, it was just great! First, Peter did a wonderful job. He is a master at this kind of thing and was able, in twenty minutes, to convey the essentials and excitement of black holes and then to describe not just gravitational waves, but also how a Michelson Interferometer works (he brought a small working one to demonstrate) and how one is used in LIGO. There were 55 people in the audience, including a large number of students (some physicists, and many others not) who I hadn't seen at any of our previous cafes. The room was full of people eager to listen, learn and then, after grabbing some delicious sushi and dumpling snacks, to ask many questions. And the questions really were excellent; keeping Peter occupied providing detailed yet accessible answers all the way to the end. The organizers and our speaker had a nice dinner at Ambrosia afterwards and rewarded ourselves with some good wine. I think our evaluation of the Cafe, and our tweaking of our system were very successful. In particular, the P.A. system and Peter's powerpoint slides worked extremely well. Over the last few months I've been contacted by and spoken on the phone with several people from New York and Chicago who are interested in starting up their own versions of Cafe Scientifique and who wanted to get a feel for the logistical challenges involved. I've encouraged them to go ahead and get started and I also hope that any of you reading this who are also considering the same thing will just jump in. It's a very fun and interesting experience, doesn't take too much work and provides people with something they're hungry for, while educating people about issues that we as scientists find important. Next month our meeting is on May 2nd, with topic

Natural Products: Evolution's Solution to Problems of Medicinal Chemistry (Chris Boddy, Department of Chemistry, S.U.)

If you're from nearby, maybe I'll see you there.

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