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Science on Tap
A New Bar for Science
Science on Tap
Alice Bean, Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, and Sigma Pi Sigma Member, University of California, Irvine, Class of 1983
A few years ago, I decided to put solar panels on my house in Lawrence, Kansas, and dump the excess power I generated back onto the grid. Evidently, I was the first person in Lawrence, Kansas, to enter into such a grid tie-in agreement with the regional electric company.
Staff members at the University of Kansas (KU) Natural History Museum found out about this arrangement. They invited me to give a presentation at Science on Tap, a monthly event that takes place in the evening at a popular local brewery called the Free State Brewery. In a room that holds about 60 people, I was to give a 30-minute talk about do-it-yourself solar power. Other talks at the event have covered topics ranging from the extinction of trilobites to the evolution of galaxies. Anyone can stop by, join in, and participate in the discussion.
As an experimental particle physicist at KU, I’ve had many great opportunities to get physics out to the public over the years. These experiences have helped me to understand physics at a deeper level by forcing me to figure out how to boil down the information to something that’s engaging. I’ve spoken to high school classes, and I’ve created materials for elementary-aged students, who are incredibly challenging because they are, I believe, the brightest among us. With a team of collaborators, I developed the outreach program Quarked! Adventures in the Subatomic Universe (www.quarked.org). Speaking to adult groups is the most interesting form of outreach, in my experience.
After eating dinner at Science on Tap, I was handed the microphone and had to remember how to talk without using PowerPoint slides! I explained the physical principles behind solar power and actually did some math for the audience. Then I answered questions for as long as the participants cared to ask them, about 45 minutes.
What you find at these events is that the public wants to engage with faculty members and discuss intellectually interesting ideas. The questions were insightful, and I learned something as well.
The best part about participating in this form of community engagement was getting to see, firsthand, that science actually matters to our society!