Science On Tap Shares Penn State Research With Broader Community

If you happen to step into Liberty on the third Tuesday of any week this semester, you might be a little taken aback by the scientist with the microphone

…but that’s the point.

Penn State’s Science Policy Society is partnering with Liberty Craft House to make science personable¬†and bring¬†research into the State College community.

The group’s first Science on Tap event attracted dozens of people to Liberty last month to hear more about faculty advisor Dr. Michael Mann’s research on human-caused climate change. Members were prepared for a 15 minute question and answer session, but attendees continued to ask questions for more than an hour.

“What’s great is that the group wasn’t largely scientists,” society member Theresa Kucinski said. “There were a lot of non-science members who came, and they would ask questions and introduce themselves like ‘I’m not a scientist, but I support you.'”

Harvard and MIT both mandate that Ph.D. theses incorporate some form of outreach. After attending a conference with exhibits by these researchers, society treasurer Jared Mondschein wanted to bring the basic idea back to Penn State; this emphasis on outreach evolved into Science on Tap. Hosting an event at a bar appealed to the group because it provides a more casual atmosphere for community members to interact with the scientists. It also allows them to share their passions outside the brick and mortar of the Chemistry Building.

Shortly after joining the Science Policy Society, Kucinski pitched the idea to the manager at Liberty and he was immediately on board with the series. It’s important for the students to communicate their research to the general public — why they’re doing the research and how it affects the general public.

“If we can’t communicate what we’re doing to the general pubic, then what we’re doing is more or less useless,” society outreach chair Joe Fortenbaugh said. This is especially true since much of their research is funded by government grants.

In addition to helping scientists convey research information to the general public, Science Policy Society also helps graduate students learn about science policy that can affect their research and careers. Members have even traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to advocate for science policy.

For those who want to learn more about the research going on at Penn State, society president Grayson Doucette says the easiest way is to ask questions. “If you have questions about what’s going on, talk to someone,” he said. “There are professors all over the campus who would love to discuss their research with community members.”

Each month’s Science on Tap event will feature a researcher from a different science department. You can read descriptions of the other upcoming sessions below. Each speaker will begin at 7 p.m.

February 21: Penn State Psychologist Dr. Sheri Berenbaum

How and why do the sexes differ? And why do we care? Virtually all of human behavior has a gendered cast. Consider, for example, social identity, choice of friends, how we present ourselves to others, leisure activities, aspirations…and more. How are these differences shaped by genes, hormones, and social experiences, and what are their implications (or not) for gender equality?

March 21: Food Scientist Dr. Kerry E. Kaylegian and Animal Scientist Dr. Chad Dechow

Cheese is everywhere and on everything but what goes into making cheese? How can artisanal and small-scale cheesemakers improve the quality and safety of their cheese? What about raw-milk cheesemakers? How do they ensure their products are safe to eat?

Genetic selection has increased the amount of milk produced by dairy cows and changed how cows look. How does this process work? And how can farmers use this tool to breed cows that can remain healthy and fertile, while maintaining high milk production levels?

April 18: Entomologists Dr. Christina Grozinger and Dr. John Tooker

Honeybees are nature’s greatest pollinator, allowing plants to reproduce and crop-bearing plants to be fertilized to produce food for the growing human population. But are pesticides threatening their populations? What about habit loss, or disease? and how will this affect farmers’ ability to put food on our tables?

Neonicotinoid insecticides can help farmers efforts to protect their crops from plant-feeding insects. But what are the wider effects of these seed coatings on natural predators of these pests and the wider agroecosystem? How can farmers capitalize on this information to optimize pest control while protecting crop yield?

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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