Programs bring science, history to the masses

Monthly events expose faculty, staff and students to science, history and geography in a relaxed atmosphere.

Associate Professor Tony Crider presents information about the Maya calendar at a science cafe at the Fat Frogg Nov. 13.


By Caitlin O’Donnell ‘13

Once a month, science becomes the attraction du jour at The Fat Frogg as members of the Elon community gather for Tectonic Plates: Alamance County’s Science Cafe.

The cafe was launched in February by Dave Gammon, an associate professor of biology, after he got the idea for the community outreach program from a national movement sponsored by NOVA and The Scientific Research Society.

The science café events have brought in anywhere from 25 to 40 attendees and speakers have ranged from a vice president of LabCorp speaking about the effects of Vitamin D to a political science professor from Elon exploring the science behind polling, Gammon said.

The overarching goal of the science café is to bring science to the masses in an environment where people are comfortable and relaxed and won’t get lost in all the technical jargon.

“Science is not exactly the most loved discipline but at the same time, it’s widely respected and admired,” Gammon said. “It’s like brussels sprouts or vegetables. Everybody needs it but they don’t really look forward to eating it. They just know they’ll be better off for having it.”

The lack of appreciation for science doesn’t surprise Gammon.

“When you’ve got a world where you can check your Facebook and get a smile from what your roommate is doing at her party versus cracking open some science textbook or investing in a popular science magazine, it’s no mystery to me that people are not naturally drawn to science or toward other scholarly stuff,” he said.

The science café is not the only program open to faculty, staff and students at Elon. Clyde Ellis, professor of history, launched the Department of History and Geography’s brown bag discussions, which provide an opportunity for faculty from the department to present their research.

“Faculty members are expected to be active members in their fields and scholarly research is a required component of our work,” Ellis said. “These sessions also remind us of the importance of modeling the sort of intellectual and academic work in which we want our students to engage.”

The event usually garners about a dozen attendees, though Ellis said as many as 20 have come in the past. Presenters’ research has included Mexican history, Caribbean slavery, North Carolina civil rights and other topics.

“The sort of work we discuss varies widely, and there’s not requirement that the work be at a particular stage of completion,” Ellis said. “We’ve read and discussed drafts of scholarly articles that are more or less ready for submission for peer-review, and we’ve also read proposals that are in progress.”

While the science café also is targeted toward reaching the community, both programs provide an opportunity for engagement and scholarly growth.

“This program gives colleagues who are active scholars a way to solicit feedback and advice about their work, and it provides faculty and students from across the campus an opportunity to share ideas about scholarship by participating in a lively exchange of ideas,” Ellis said of the brown bag lunches.

Although he thinks it’s a long shot, Gammon is looking for a societal transformation in the treatment of science.

“Society stands to gain an enormous benefit from something like a science café if it gets promoted in the right way, if it connects with people in ways that they find meaningful,” Gammon said. “It’s a daunting challenge but why not work on something challenging and meaningful?”

Tectonic Plates: Alamance County’s Science Café meets from 7 to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at Fat Frogg Bar and Grill in Elon.

The Department of History and Geography has brown bag discussions once a month. There is a discussion from 12:15 to 1:10 p.m. Nov. 14 in Lindner 110 to discuss the work of Michael Matthews, an assistant professor of history.