Hot science, cold beer, spicy food; the perfect combination

The French love their cafes. The English love their pubs. In both cases they are often more than just a place to get a refreshing libation, they’re also a place to get stimulating conversation. Philosophy, politics, religion, sports; they’re all hot topics in those places.

In the US we are creating our own version of those establishments; the Science Café movement is growing around the US and offering a location for good food, refreshing beverages and most important of all, great discussions about science.

How cool are they? Well, on a foggy, windy Tuesday evening close to 200 people packed into a building in a mobile food court in San Francisco. They were there to hear two of the stem cell agency’s Science Officers, Dr. Uta Grieshammer and Dr. Kevin Whittlesey, talk about stem cells.

The event was hosted by Wonderfest (motto: “Truth is a great flirt”) and Ask a Scientist (“A lecture series for curious humans”)

Uta went first, giving a quick overview of what stem cells are, how they work and what they do. Kevin followed with a look at how stem cells are being used to treat a variety of diseases of problems from diabetes and heart disease to organ transplants (there’s a full list of diseases under investigation on our website).

You knew you had a science-heavy crowd when Kevin’s laser pointer died and several members of the audience offered him theirs.

Then came the questions. And they were really smart, thoughtful, informed questions – as you would expect from an audience interested in science. People wanted to know how you get an embryonic stem cell to turn into a brain cell or muscle cell; how do you make sure it goes where you want and stays there; can stem cells be removed from someone after death, just as we do with organs, and used to help others; can we use them to recreate wooly mammoths (no really, someone asked that – and the answer is, maybe)

The audience was a really diverse group, drawn by a shared fascination with science and an interest in stem cells. Mike Higashi said he has a “general curiosity about science and really liked the deep background” he got from the talk. Atif Khan was visiting from Pakistan, “I’m a biology student and don’t know a lot about stem cells right now but want to learn because I’m thinking of studying them after I graduate.” For Madeline Detelich it was a date night! She was visiting her boyfriend and he wanted to take her somewhere “fun and cheap” (they are students with little money). Madeline is a biochemistry major and said the talk was “great fun and it definitely made me think a lot more about human anatomy and disease therapy. Most of my work is with e-coli so this was very different for me.”

The best part of the evening, and of Science Café’s in general, is that there are no tests to take, no grades to worry about; just great food, good drinks, and a conversation about some of the universe’s most fascinating mysteries.

K.M.

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