Coffee and science unite every month at downtown cafe

Local residents meet on the first Tuesday of every month at Batdorf and Bronson Coffee in downtown Olympia to discuss and hear presentations on various science- and environment-related topics.  This monthly event is called the Science Cafe, and its next installment will take place on Feb. 8.

According to Science Cafe organizers, the Feb. 8 presentation is titled, “The longer day: How rocks can tell us about changes in the earth’s spin and the moon’s orbit.”  The presentation will be given by Chris Coughenour, Ph.D., from The Evergreen State College.

This presentation, like every Science Cafe meeting, is open to the public.  The Science Café meets on the first Tuesday of every month, and has been doing so for years, according to Martha Schumacher, the manager at Batdorf and Bronson’s Capitol Way location.  While Batdorf provides the location—and the coffee, of course—the meetings are organized by The Puget Sound Section of the American Chemical Society, along with help from the TV station NOVA.

NOVA helps to run Science Cafes all over the country, and they are quite popular, according to the official Science Café website.  NOVA attributes part of that popularity to the accessibile nature of Cafes.

“Science Cafes are live events that involve a face to face conversation with a scientist about current science topics,” says the website.

Don’t let the word “science” be off putting—Schumacher says previous Olympia Science Cafes have often covered ecological and environmental issues, from bats to geological studies to, in 2009, a topic entitled, ‘The Miracle Cup—the discovery, evolution, and chemistry of coffee.”  Fitting, considering the location of this particular Café and the coffee-loving Northwest culture.

NOVA’s official Science Cafe website notes that topics of Science Café meetings are made purposely accessible to attendees, especially those with little or no science background.  The principles behind Science Cafes themselves tout the importance of community-friendly discussion, and not exhaustive scientific presentations.  Science Cafes, says the website, aren’t meant to be an exclusive exchange between professionals and students already well versed in the subjects—they are meant to introduce a topic, spark some interest, and, hopefully, begin an animated discussion about said topic.

In 2007, Goodman Research Group conducted a nation-wide survey about Science Cafes, and found that participants not only enjoyed and participated in the presentations and discussions, but often found them interesting enough to share with family and friends, outside of the Café itself.  Seventy-five percent of Café attendees surveyed said they continued to discuss the topic brought up at Science Café with family and friends long after the meeting ended.  Another seventy-five percent said that they would recommend the Café to others, and that it helped pique their interest in the subject presented.

Besides elaborating on the benefits the public receives from Science Cafe attendance, NOVA discusses the importance of these Cafes to the scientists that act as presenters.  Cafes are an opportunity for local scientists—official or self-proclaimed—to make their work public, says the Science Cafe website.  This gives scientists the option to share their expertise and/or studies with the community.  The idea here is to build a connection between scientists and the general public, using knowledge and intrigue as a very sturdy bridge between cultures.

Discussing the ideology behind Science Cafes, NOVA makes it clear that the goal of Cafes should be to encourage an energetic discourse about the topic presented.   The Cafes usually feature a brief presentation followed by an open and extended discussion period.  According to the website, presenters for Science Cafes are told to give an overview of the topic, and try to present some intriguing questions relating to that topic.  NOVA’s intent is that Cafe presentations be thought provoking, not exhaustive.

Olympia’s Science Café has seen presentations from individuals , as well as from groups including Northwest Area Science, the Washington Geology Library, and the US Department of the Interior Geological Survey.   Attendance usually numbers around 20, according to Schumacher.  The next Science Café in Olympia will be held on Feb. 8 at 7 P.M.

Anyone interested in learning what, exactly, rocks do tell us about the earth’s spin and the moon’s orbit is welcome to attend the Feb. 8 presentation.  In addition, Schumacher said, refreshments–in the form of Batdorf and Bronson coffee–are available both during the presentation and during a brief intermission.