Rika Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Sarah Meerts is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of Neuroscience.
We were awarded a Broom Public Scholarship grant to fund a series of science cafes, called C.O.W.S. or Conversations On the Wonders of Science. The goal of C.O.W.S. was to provide a venue for the general public to engage with scientists about the importance of science and to receive feedback from the public about scientific interest in the Northfield community.
We saw a need to increase conversation between the community and scientists as the spread of misinformation about scientific issues escalates. Science cafés are one approach to communicating science with the general public. Typically, Science cafés occur in a casual setting, such as a coffee shop or local pub, and are open to anyone and everyone. A scientist will give a short, engaging presentation (10-15 min) that is intended to spark lively discussion (20-30 min).
At C.O.W.S. we have hosted professors from Carleton and St. Olaf, a local physician, and the local composting group. A main goal is to create an informal, dynamic atmosphere that encourages all participants to feel comfortable asking questions or volunteering ideas. Science Cafés provide mutual learning between scientists and non-scientists. Scientists gain familiarity with different perspectives, learn to describe their research in accessible language, and develop or improve civic engagement skills. Scientists also benefit by learning how to make their work relevant to and accessible by society. The lay public benefits by taking part in a dialogue about the impact of science on daily life, and potentially learning about scientific concepts that may lead to more informed decisions in their daily lives, whether it be in making voting decisions, business decisions, or sharing information with others.
We used the Broom Public Scholarship grant for fees needed to support C.O.W.S., such as space and equipment rental.