I am just back from a presentation at the Science Café Woo, hosted by the Nu Café in Worcester, and organized by Ana Maldonado-Contreras and Kelly Hallstrom from UMass Medical School (Kelly was a student researcher in my lab at Clark while she was an undergraduate, and worked with my former PhD student, Jason Slot). Tonight, I talked about the work that I did with Dimitris Floudas and many others on the evolution of white rot, and its possible correlation with the decline in coal deposition at the end of the Permo-Carboniferous (and how this result was overblown in the blogosphere). This was one of the most fun, energizing events that I have done in a long time. I have always been invigorated by my interactions with non-professional biologists, whether through the Boston Mycological Club or other organizations, and this was no exception. I certainly enjoy teaching undergraduates at Clark University, but non-professional/non-student audiences really bring something special, namely pure interest and curiosity, unburdened by concerns about grades and career advancement. Tonight’s crowd was engaged and relaxed, and they asked great questions! This experience reminded me why I got into biology in the first place, and it highlights the importance of citizen-science.
This was the eighth Science Cafe this year. The last one was given by my colleague John Baker. Kelly and Ana just received an Outreach Seed Grant from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, so there will be more of these events coming in Worcester in 2014.
Update 12/31/13: Karl Hakkarainen has a piece about the Science Cafe event on Worcester Connects. Karl’s article led me to new examples of how the study with Dimitris et al. has been skewed in the on-line press, including one piece that asks “What caused the great coal crash of 300 million years ago?”