Science Cafe

Author: Gene Stowe

By Gene Stowe

A reinvented South Bend Science Café, sparked by Jessica Baron, Outreach and Communications Coordinator for the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, drew nearly 100 people to its inaugural event in September. The café is held in downtown on the second Tuesday of each month.

Baron, who had heard of community engagement through fun-filled science cafés when she attend an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, mentioned the idea during her IgniteMichiana talk in March. Her 5-minute presentation focused on the Reilly Center's Annual List of Emerging Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Issues in Science and Technology.

“I wanted to get people excited about emerging technologies and I wanted to encourage them to think about and talk about science more,” she says. “The goal was to get people to realize that you don't have to be an expert to be interested in science and to let them know that there are some issues out there – legal, ethical, moral, etc. – that deserve their attention and discussion. The example I gave them as a way to do this was the science café.”

Within four hours, more than three dozen people had contacted her to urge establishment of a science café. More than a dozen volunteered to be part of an organizing committee. The GLOBES program, now part of the Reilly Center, operated a similar café downtown several years ago.

The reinvented café, organized with a 15-minute talk, questions, and extensive socializing, opened Sept. 9 at the Chicory Café. Amateur astronomer Chuck Bueter of Granger described plans for celebrating the upcoming approach of Comet ISON, which will pass close to the sun on Thanksgiving Day and likely remain visible for several days. .

“Science is a community endeavor, and this is an example,” said Bueter, who has organized a local 2013 Comet Festival. “Your first science café is an amateur astronomer Astronomy is where the community and amateurs can get involved.”

After the event, Baron was invited to give the opening address at the local AAUW launch event this year to talk about STEM, Gender, and the Science Café. 

At the 6 p.m. Oct. 14 event at the Chicory Café, Marya Lieberman, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a Reilly Fellow, will present “Finding fake drugs: bringing chemistry out of the lab and into the world.”

Baron says community involvement, including the Chicory Café’s hospitality, loans of sound equipment, and volunteer organization and promotion, energized the café. The Reilly Center provide comet cookies and materials to make comet models – foam balls and pipe cleaners.

“I really think the café was successful because we had so many passionate, young members of the community helping plan it from the beginning,” she says. “South Bend wants to see this thing be successful, so I'm doing everything I can to make sure it is!”

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