Courtesy of Frederik Questier and Yanna Van Wesemael.
In mid February, I attended and presented at the inaugural 2011 International Public Science Events Conference (IPSEC) in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the California Academy of Sciences. About 180 attendees gathered from all over the world to discuss the science café movement and its future direction. There were delegates from Italy, China, Japan, England, Egypt and the United States and the enthusiasm for the topic of science was tanamount. There were attendees from large science festivals and national movements down to organizers of intimate gatherings in local cafés and pubs.
The science café movement in the United States stems from a longer history in Europe. It all began with Café philosophique. It was a grassroots forum for philosophical discussion, founded by philosopher Marc Sautet in Paris, France in the 1990's.
This concept was applied to café scientifique in 1998. Duncan Dallas, café founder, got the idea for the scientific forum from reading the obituary of Marc Suatet. He set up his first meeting in a wine bar in Leeds, England. Café scientifiques started popping up all over England. Now café scientifique is a recognized international movement linking those interested with cafes - not only in England, but through the rest of the world.
This reach was related by Duncan Dallas when he spoke of his work with new cafes in West Africa at the conference. It was really wonderful to find out about these very rural science cafes. Mostly women are starting them in native tribal languages. The most sought after topics concern public health and they are a way to better educate the general public about health concerns everyone is facing in these areas.
The two-day conference was truly inspiring for its reach and passion about science. I walked away thinking that science is an intrinsic part of culture that needs to be discussed and delved into rather than placed on a pedestal collecting dust. This movement continues to flourish because science in an café or festival format make science an approachable part of our everyday world; one which fuels not only discussion and community but also curiosity and enthusiasm.
This discussion is very much alive in the bay area and many events taking place can be found on the Bay Area Science events calendar. For more information on how this science café movement is taking off in the United States, the science café website and the science festival alliance website are both great resources to check out.