Grahamstown Science Café, which has been running once a month since March this year at Café Divine in New Street, consistently draws an assorted crowd of all ages.
“We wanted to start something that was more informal, accessible and inclusive of the greater Grahamstown than the usual events taking place on campus. We considered that some residents may feel intimidated to enter campus grounds, and we wanted to get the message across that science is for everybody, as it affects all our lives,” explained Dino Giovannoni, Physics Lecturer at Rhodes University, and one of the people responsible for bringing Science Café to Grahamstown.
The Science Café team consists of Head of Mathematics Professor Denis Pollney, Lecturer & Head of the Zoology and Entomology Molecular Lab Dr Shelley Edwards, Chemistry Lecturer Dr Vincent Smith, Botany Lecturer Dr Tracey Nowell and Mathematics Lecturer Dr Anslyn John.
Prof Pollney presented the first-ever Grahamstown Science Café talk on gravitational waves, as well as the most recent one, in which he discussed the origin of the Universe.
Also from the group, Dr Edwards has presented a talk on the development of new and innovative technologies based on reptile movement and physical characteristics. Head and Dean of Pharmacy at Rhodes University, Professor Santy Daya, has also presented.
Guest speakers have included Professor Delia Haynes from the Department of Chemistry at Stellenbosch University, Professor Russ Taylor a SKA Research Chair, at the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape and Dr Mark Brigham from the Department of Biology at the University of Regina, Canada.
“We like to get a mix of Rhodes staff and external academics to present. We feel this further reinforces the knowledge-sharing aspect,” said Giovannoni.
A typical session usually consists of a 15-20 minute talk by the presenter, and then a question and answer session of a similar length. Surprisingly, it is often the younger audience members whose hands shoot up first. “They generally ask well-thought out and compelling questions. This makes us feel as if we are achieving our goals,” explained Giovannoni. “Our speakers never shrug off an inquiry from a young person and no one laughs at them. Their questions are treated with the same level of respect as any of the adult audience members.”
One of Science Café’s goals was to move away from a formal classroom setting, in order to encourage and foster a love for science. They select speakers purposefully – inviting only presenters that are passionate about their subject and have the unique ability of distilling their knowledge in such a way that appeals to wider audiences, including children.
According to Giovannoni, the team hopes to continue appealing to the younger generation and open their eyes to how incredible science is.
Science Café further invites participation and collaboration at the end of every session by encouraging attendees to suggest speakers they would like to see presenting.
For more information, visit the Grahamstown Science Café Facebook page.