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October 29, 2014

Bringing Science to the Masses: Researchers Finding New Ways to Make Their Work Accessible to the Layman

Researchers discuss their work in monthly Science Café series

By Jennifer Roach
j.roach@rochester.edu

From the H1N1 flu, to robots, to renewable energy, to the Higgs Boson. For five years, the community has had a chance to learn about and discuss a wide variety of topics with scientists at the Rochester Science Café.

Upcoming Science Café presentations

Nov. 25: “Influential Passengers: Bacterial Symbionts That Manipulate Their Hosts,” John (Jack) Werren, Nathaniel and Helen Wisch Professor in Biology

Jan. 27: “Conversing with Computers to Improve Social Skills,” M. Ehsan Hoque, assistant professor of computer science

The talks, which are open to everyone, are conducted in plain language—a science background is not required.

The goal is to “provide our lay community access to top scientists who are expert in topical issues,” says David Goldfarb, professor of biology and cofounder of Rochester’s Science Café. “We bring in world-class scientists for face-to-face conversations.”

The presenters give their talks without visual aids such as Power- Point slides to encourage a more concept-driven conversational tone. They are not staid lectures. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions and offer opinions, and they, as much as the presenter, drive the discussion.

Now entering its sixth year, the Science Café draws a regular following from the community, Goldfarb says, and each session includes around 30 to 40 participants from the community.

For presenting faculty members, the cafés offer a chance for them to share their passion with a general audience.

Duje Tadin, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and of ophthalmology, says he enjoyed his experience presenting a Science Café talk last spring. He discussed “Visual Perception as a Window to Brain Function” with a packed audience.

Tadin says the presentation was more enjoyable and more interactive than he thought it would be and that the questions from the audience were very good.

“It’s so easy to get locked into your own world and use your own highly specialized language,” Tadin says. “The audience doesn’t know the details that you do so you have to broaden your perspective. Broadening your thinking is rewarding and useful.”

There are hundreds of Science Cafés held around the world. Rochester’s Science Café is organized by Goldfarb and Josh Faber, associate professor of mathematical sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology. Since 2009, faculty from Rochester and RIT, as well as occasional visiting guests, have presented more than 30 topics as part of the series.

The talks are held on the fourth Tuesday of the month (excluding December) during the academic year at Barnes & Noble on Monroe Avenue in the Pittsford Plaza. More information is available at http://sciencecaferochester.blogspot.com.

Saunders Research Building’s ‘Data Blitzes’ share work, spur collaboration

By Melissa Lang
mlang@admin.rochester.edu

An idea born of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute— namely its director, Karl Keiburtz—a “Data Blitz” is a visual display or a series of presentations, each one lasting just several minutes, centered around the same general area of research.

New Program

In addition to the Science Café and SRB Data Blitz presentations, a new monthly program broadcast on local PBS affiliate WXXI (AM 1370) “Science Roundtable,” features a panel of several University scientists, either from the same field or from different disciplines, depending on the angle and scope of the topic at hand. The aim of the hour-long show, hosted by Evan Dawson is three-fold: to addresses important and timely issues of science, often offering a scientific perspective on current events; to provide insight into specific—and emerging—scientific disciplines; and to improve science literacy among the general public.

With the occasional exception, “Science Roundtable” airs from noon to 1 p.m. the first Monday of every month.

And the Saunders Building is the perfect place for such a program, says Tom Fogg, the CTSI’s executive director.

“When Saunders was built, the hope was that it would bring together researchers who had previously been spread out all over campus, to allow them to interact, both formally and informally,” he says.

The monthly Data Blitzes not only give the University’s scientists an opportunity to get in touch with their colleagues’ bodies of work, though. They also offer the busy layperson a way to be informed—and impressed.

“These are talented people,” Fogg says, “and it’s clear Rochester would not be the same place if not for the University and the caliber of people who work here.”

But there is a more meaningful purpose for the rapid-fire, public-friendly sessions: the research is at the foundation of advancements in technology and medicine whose applications change the lives of people who’ve never set foot in a lab.

“There are direct connections between research and the care of patients,” Fogg says.

The formats for the scientists’ presentations are up to them. They may do a three-minute talk, a mini poster session, or a guided tour through the tangible facets of their work.

Just as its indoor cohesiveness, the Saunders Building’s positioning on the Medical Center grounds is a plus, too, Fogg says. Thousands of University employees walk through the facility on their way to and from their nearby parking lots. And because the “blitzes” are housed in the lobby, passers-by are bound to get a glimpse of researchers’ work, even if inadvertently.

“To have everyone take part in learning about the great work done here,” Fogg says, “well, that would just be a huge win for everybody.”

Learn about future installments in the SRB Data Blitz series at www.urmc.rochester.edu/ctsi/ news-events/SRB-Data-Blitz-Series.cfm.

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