Guiness Pints, Live Music and Scientific Lectures?

5-aThe Dartmouth College Office of Science and Technology Outreach website asks visitors the following questions:

“Thirsty for good conversation in a stimulating atmosphere? Do you harbor questions you would like to ask a scientist or would you prefer to sit back, relax, and learn something new about the world?”

If you have answered yes to any of these inquiries, the Dartmouth College Office of Science & Technology Outreach and Lebanon’s downtown Salt hill Pub have just the ticket for you: Science Pubs, an informal monthly presentation and discussion on a variety of topics of scientific interest.

Based on the Science Cafe model developed in Europe in the 1990s, Science Pubs at Salt hill bring scientists and the public together for informal discussions around topics ranging from fracking to happiness to local food.

“I had heard of the concept about two years ago, so I contacted the officials at Dartmouth College and invited them over for lunch to discuss having a Science Pub here in Lebanon,” explained Josh Touhy, owner of Salt hill Pub. “Right out of the chute I felt this would be the perfect environment for such a wonderful event to be staged. It would draw folks from all walks of life, and this area has a lot of intellectual institutions nearby. This provides a way in which they can get away from the standard lecture hall and relax in a warm atmosphere like we offer. I’ve often joked what could be better than that!”

He was correct. At the monthly Science Pub in October, an overflow crowd packed the Gateway Function Room, forcing management to place video screens in the adjoining main dining room so everyone could watch the program unfold while they dined on authentic Irish pub fare combined with a selection of 15 Guinness draft offerings.

The end result? A relaxed and receptive audience that embraced the program with gusto.

5-bThe topic of the October lecture was “Sending Signals: How We (and our Animal Cousins) Find Mates, Avoid Predators and Survive.” The evening discussion was overseen by Robert L. Welly, associate professor from Dartmouth College’s Earth Sciences Department. (Welly is responsible for securing financial support for the Science Pub program from NASA.) On the podium were Ryan Callable, associate professor of biological sciences, Hannah ter Hofstede, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Nathaniel Hominy, associate professor of anthropology.

The presentation emphasized the following: “We see it in the mating dances of birds and lizards and even the pick-up scene in any bar.” (That brought a buzz of approval from the crowd.) “Evolutionary biologists call this phenomenon ‘signaling,’ behaviors that attempt to benefit the signaler and change the behavior of the receiver. In a nutshell, it’s about sex, reproduction, and survival of the fittest.”

That lecture was punctuated by a lively question-and-answer period that allowed the lecturers to take seats and mingle with the guests for a more up-close and personal approach. Good humor was the order of the evening along with lively, thought-provoking questions.

Many of the guests present were science professionals with a keen interest in all the programs at Salt hill Pub. One example was Shanna Nifoussi of Lebanon.

“I teach biology at two different colleges, and I invited some of my students here so they can get extra credits. It’s a good way for students to get away and learn about science in a different manner, not just what they read in books.”

The series will continue through May of next year, with a wide variety of topics that can be checked out on the Dartmouth College website (search for “science pub”). There are many cold winter evenings ahead, and you will be hard pressed to find a warmer setting to learn and enjoy the company of others.

by Dave Nelson