Unlike letterman jackets and pop quizzes, learning is something that should follow you far beyond your high school years. As Socrates so eloquently reminds us: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Somerville and Cambridge are havens for adult learners, with events at area colleges and bookstores taking place nearly every night of the week. But it’s hard enough to drag yourself to the gym after a long workday, harder still to make a trip to the classroom. So how do you get non-scientists excited about extending their education? Enter Science by the Pint: a monthly series that gets scientists out of their universities and into your local watering hole.
“Science by the Pint … takes a very different approach to science outreach that I think is way more exciting, which is: Bring it to the people!” Science by the Pint’s Ann Fiegen Durbin exclaims. “Bring it to a bar. Make it fun, and break down the walls between the ivory tower and the people in the neighborhood.”
Science by the Pint is an offshoot of Science in the News, a group of Harvard grad students that brings scientists and non-scientists together in a stress free, low pressure environment. On the second Monday of each month, Science by the Pint welcomes professors and researchers in the STEM fields to The Burren (247 Elm St.), where they talk about their work and rub shoulders with us common folk—all over brews and food.
The series has bounced around different bars and restaurants in Boston throughout the course of its five years, but has called the Burren its home since 2013. They’ve hosted scientists who study space, nanotechnology, medicine—you name it, Science by the Pint has invited someone who’s respected in that field to share their expertise. Previous events have included “the evolutionary biology of cuddling,” which looked at the benefits animals from mouse pups to human children get by sharing their warmth with one another, and an “astrophysics-meets-climatology” discussion about weather patterns on other planets. The most recent evening brought together two biologists for a bit of banter on the works of Charles Darwin.
But while you could perhaps call Science by the Pint a lecture series, the monthly meetups aren’t meant to take place behind a podium. There should be no glazed-over eyes or blank stares from the audience.
“It’s not as much about the person on stage—we try to keep that section pretty brief,” Durbin explains. “The bulk of the event is meant to be one-on-one, face-to-face mingling at eye level.”
That’s a huge part of the reason that the Burren has been such a good home for Science by the Pint—their central location is easily accessible on foot or by train, allowing a large number of curious science-lovers to attend, and the atmosphere (and beer) are conducive to pleasant chatter. But as the series has become more popular (occasionally the house is so packed that it’s standing room only), Durbin and her fellow grad students have been looking for larger events spaces that will allow them to reach an even broader community. That’s led them to collaborate with the Cambridge Science Festival as part of their new “Celebrating Einstein” series for an upcoming event at Aeronaut Brewing Company.
“It’s a convergence of three different groups,” Durbin says. “It’s Aeronaut excited about collaborating with us—Science by the Pint—and also the Cambridge Science Festival with the Celebrating Einstein series. It’s also sort of a prototype pilot event to see how well all of us work together.”
And if you’re wondering whether the conversations will be a little bit too technical for your tastes, you have nothing to worry about—Science by the Pint organizers intentionally welcome guests who can talk serious science without cramming in a ton of jargon. They look for speakers who are engaging in the classroom or those who have held TED talks in their areas of expertise. The whole purpose of the event is to allow those who are curious about science to learn more in an atmosphere that’s less rigid and more convivial than a lecture hall.
After all, as Durbin quips, “The best time to talk to scientists is when you’re both holding a beer.”