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.
"It's about enabling people to engage with the issues in science and technology," she said.
That's pretty much the goal at Secret Science, which started in 2006: to bring science out of the lab to the people.
The club is the brainchild of co-founders and curators Dorian Devins, Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson. While all three are interested in science, they're not scientists. They started the club because they thought they'd enjoy it. It quickly became surprisingly popular.
"My mission kind of quickly became, 'Oh people are really interested, let's see how far we can take it,'" Mittelbach said.
(Of course, some of it is just, um, quirky, like the taxidermy contest, in which people are encouraged to bring their "taxidermy (bought, found or homemade), biological oddities, articulated skeletons, skulls, jarred specimens — and beyond, way beyond," according to the group's website. Judges pick the winners.)
These days, that means events once a month, attended by a crowd of at least a few hundred people and often more. Newcomers usually make up at least 25 percent of the audience, Mittelbach said. Despite its tongue-in-cheek-name, the club advertises its meeting place and times on its website.
And while the scientists don't necessarily use the same scientific and technical language they might use with colleagues, it's not some type of "Science for Dummies," said Michael Garbarino, 42, a security worker from Yonkers and a longtime attendee.
"They're expressing it in the vernacular, but they're not dumbing it down," he said.
For Scharf, it was a welcome change from his everyday reality, caught up in numbers and equations.
"It's this sort of opportunity, when you're talking to a crowd, that you remember, 'This is why I got into this,'" he said.
Mittelbach said the gatherings transcend entertainment. "In parts of the country science has really been under siege," he said, referring to disputes over issues like climate change.
"I do think it's sort of important to shed light on what scientists actually do, how does the scientific method work," she said. "Anything that helps make science more accessible is really great."
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