The Enlightenment began in the cafes of France. René Descartes demonstrated the usefulness of logical deduction, a critical competent of the scientific method. Denis Diderot assembled the first encyclopedia, including entries from across the scientific disciplines of the time.
Over the course of the last few hundred years, many things have changed but a few have remained the same. One of those is gathering in cafes, drinking coffee, and discussing science.
Over the course of the summer, University of Arizona’s Undergraduate Biology Research Program has hosted a number of ‘Science Cafes’ at Caffe Luce, a regular destination for many U of A students.
The Science Cafes, led by UBRP student researchers, have covered a number of topics from animal behavior to the binding domains of enzymes and have been attended by UBRP students and others alike.
“Our Science Cafes provide a space for intimate discussion among a group of research-minded people,” said Alexis Anderson, a junior studying evolution in finches with Dr. Renee Duckworth.
Anderson led a talk of her own this summer focused on the interpretation of animal behavior and the boundaries of behavior’s predictability and repeatability, two critical factors in her research.
Every UBRP student leading a Science Cafe chooses a scientific paper published by their laboratory or relating to their research to form the backbone of that week’s discussion.
Reading scientific papers is not always an easy endeavor, as many UBRP students themselves have discovered. Oftentimes, you can walk away learning much more when tackling a scientific paper together.
“Sometimes you can be left with unanswered questions after reading a scientific paper,” said Anne-Laure Blanche, a junior also researching with Dr. Duckworth. “Discussing your questions with a group is so much better than just being left in the dark.”
Blanche led her own Science Cafe this summer too, delving into questions of the malleability of behaviors and co-evolution, where a change in one species leads another species to experience a change as well.
The thrill of reading a scientific paper comes not only in understanding its claims and discoveries but also in asking and proposing experiments to test the future questions it inspires or leaves unanswered.
The students of UBRP come from a variety of backgrounds both in life and in science and thanks to the financial sponsorship of UBRP, they all spend their summers in research labs, working full time, and reading many scientific papers along the way.
The Science Cafes provide another avenue by which to get the most out of their research experience. No person is an island. By bringing together the broad perspectives and knowledge bases of UBRP students, the Science Cafes ultimately open the door to new questions and ideas for the students.
“Our Science Cafes engage our peers in an open discussion, allowing us to make connections between fields and on many different levels,” said Tiffany Cho, President of the UBRP Student Ambassadors and a senior researching neural circuits in mice with Dr. Haijiang Cai. “For all of us, science is a uniting factor.”
This shared love of science has inspired more than a few hours of discussion, debate, and camaraderie over many, many cups of coffee.