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Secret science club mixes knowledge with cocktails

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm •  Published: November 24, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — It's not the drinks at this Brooklyn bar that could blow your mind — it's the conversation. The molecular genetics. The marine biology. The neuroscience.

Those are the topics of the Secret Science Club, a monthly event that brings people to hear scientists and researchers talking about their work, accompanied by signature cocktails like the Gamma Ray and the Mind Meld and, of course, the annual taxidermy contest. It's a chance to get out, not only for the attendees but also for the science — out of the lab, into the real world.

The real world made its presence felt at the November event, which covered the science of Superstorm Sandy and extreme weather.

At another recent event, the presentation was all about black holes. Astrophysicist Caleb Scharf used images from the Hubble telescope and videos as he talked about how black holes shape the universe. The event was standing-room only and the audience hung on Scharf's every word.

"I loved it, I had a tremendous time," Scharf said when asked about the experience days later.

"These were clearly very informed people," he said of the crowd. "They really wanted to understand."

The attendees are as wide-ranging as the topics. There are those who work in the science fields, like Monique Garraud, a 28-year-old Brooklynite who works as a research analyst at a biotech company.

There's also Joseph Damiano, a 44-year-old Department of Sanitation worker from Brooklyn who has been coming to the Secret Science Club for several years.

"It's fantastic, you're meeting heavy hitters in all forms of science," Damiano said.

"This is coming from the real deal, people who are actually going to change history," he said before Scharf's talk started at the Bell House, a venue in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn where the lectures are held.

The gathering, and similar ones around the world, hearken back to the 19th century, when getting to hear scientists and others lecture was "a kind of popular entertainment," said Thomas Levenson, professor of science writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Those were seen as actual nights out on the town," he said.

The point of them is create a sense of connection, said Ann Grand, of Somerset, England. She's affiliated with Cafe Scientifique, a grassroots effort in Europe that's been around since the late 1990s and also tries to bring scientists together with the public.

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