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Simplifying interstellar topics over coffee

Astrophysics talk series captivates crowds at Anodyne

Visitors+gather+for+latest+Coffeshop+Astrophysics+lecture+that+breaks+down+complex+science+topics.
Visitors gather for latest Coffeshop Astrophysics lecture that breaks down complex science topics.

Visitors gather for latest Coffeshop Astrophysics lecture that breaks down complex science topics.

Photo by Austin Anderson

Photo by Austin Anderson

Visitors gather for latest Coffeshop Astrophysics lecture that breaks down complex science topics.

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Packed into Anodyne Coffee on a Saturday afternoon, over 100 visitors came to get their caffeine fix — and hear a lecture about astrophysics.

Coffeeshop Astrophysics is hosted by a group of eight post-doctoral and graduate students at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Gravitation, Cosmology and Astrophysics. These students are devoted to sharing their passion for science with the world.

Angela Van Sistine is one of eight students involved in the program.

“We do these talks because we love what we study and we want to share it with others,” she said.

The group hosts a presentation each month at Anodyne. Dates vary, but sessions usually begin at 1 p.m. and last about an hour, followed by a question-and-answer segment.

The group’s last presentation focused on gravitational lensing and the quest to build a telescope the size of the solar system. The presenters did not disappoint the crowd packed into Anodyne’s location on West Bruce Street.

Mike Campise, a graduate of Milwaukee School of Engineering, attended the Feb. 11 event.

“I have been wanting to see one of their presentations for a while,” Campise said. “I’m glad it finally worked out because it was really an interesting topic today … it is interesting to see presentations on something more arbitrary, like science, rather than a more opinionated topic.”

Coffeeshop Astrophysics is designed to make complicated topics easy to understand for anyone, even people with no background in science.

“Our goal is to explain these topics that are so important to us in ways that everyone will understand,” Van Sistine said.

These heavy scientific topics can discourage the public from attending, so the group decided it would be best to host their events in a place that is welcoming to all people.

“We wanted to create an informal atmosphere that feels familiar and comfortable, rather than some stuffy university classroom,” Van Sistine said.

Because of this setup, the event sometimes attracts accidental audience members. People like Doug Skinner, a Milwaukee resident, walk into the shop to get coffee on the day of a presentation without knowing what is going on. Sometimes, they sit down to drink their coffee and stay because they are intrigued by the topic.

“I sort of stumbled upon one of their first talks accidentally and I’ve been to almost all of them since,” Skinner said. “I am a huge fan of Coffeeshop Astrophysics … they have so much expertise in their field and they present to us about the most fascinating topics in ways that everyone can understand.”

As Skinner mentioned, audience members range from science experts to elementary-aged students. He spoke about his belief that these talks could be incredibly impactful.

“Education through science is the most important part of being an informed member of society,” he said. “I may be overstepping, but I believe that Trump would not have been elected had more people been scientifically educated.”

The group has three more events scheduled before the end of the school year. March’s talk will discuss important women in science history, followed by the ocean and the stars in April and science for everyday citizens in May.

These talks are intended to open the minds of citizens who may not have thought about these kinds of scientific topics. A regular attendee, Skinner compared the experience with following sports.

“It is one thing to root for a sports team. It is even better, however, to cheer for academic greatness,” he said.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Simplifying interstellar topics over coffee”

  1. Maitrayee on February 15th, 2017 9:32 pm

    I so wish I was able to attend such coffeeshop lectures. It really broadens our intellectual abilities.

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