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Science over a cuppa

Word cloud with the most prominent words used by scientists during interviews conducted during the author’s Master’s thesis.

Word cloud with the most prominent words used by scientists during interviews conducted during the author’s Master’s thesis.

Since scientific knowledge is impacting society it is imperative that scientists and society recognise what kind of social impact their research is having on society.

This is why scientific awareness of various audiences is crucial to informal science communication. Different forums exist in Malta, such as the Science in the City festival, an upcoming science interactive centre, THINK and Radio Mocha.

My research focused on analysing the setting of Malta Café Scientifique and on whether it is a good method of public engagement with the Maltese community. The feedback I gathered for my research was from the scientists, organisers and audience, which provided a formative and summative evaluation about the events.

But what is Café Scientifique? Café Scientifique events in Malta have been held for the past five years. It is an informal place where anyone can discuss the latest ideas in science and technology.

The typical participants that make up the audience are university students, people with an interest in science, scientists and science educators. Each event takes a good amount of organisation, from finding a good topic, to finding a speaker who is willing to give a talk and setting up the venue. The speaker takes around 30 minutes to talk about a particular topic and this is followed by a discussion where the audience is encouraged to ask questions. Sometimes we organise interactive bits to encourage the audience to socialise. The enthusiasm is infectious, with many great discussions about the night’s science topic. Afterwards, some refreshments with a cup of coffee or tea go a long way to help people continue talking about the topic.

Responses varied as to the audience’s attendance and participation. However, attendance was high when the topic was relatable to the audience and when the speaker was a high-profile one. Malta Café Scientifique helps provide lifelong learning; science education does not end at secondary school or even university.

One of Malta Café Scientifique’s objectives is to serve as an informal platform to engage the public with science. This aim is achieved by taking the event out of the confines of a formal lecture theatre  to a more relaxed and informal environment where the focus is on upstream engagement rather than sticking to the deficit model. In the deficit model, the audience is seen as empty vessels and information is passed on to it.

There are many benefits to the upstream engagement approach as one achieves a critical scientifically informed citizen through dialogue. The importance of upstream engagement centres round the public’s opinions being valuable and an integral part of any scientific research.

While the public may or may not know about the intricacies of the research, they can provide the researcher with social, emotional and ethical viewpoints.

Informal science communication is growing, which is why more science communication events need to be organised and studied. More research needs to focus on coming up with a public communication engagement strategy and plan that enhances the public’s perception towards science.

For more about Malta Café Scientifique, visit www.facebook.com/Malta.Cafe.Scientifique. One may also discover more about Gozo Cafe Scientifique by logging on to https://www.facebook.com/CafeSciGozo/?fref=ts .

To join the team or mailing list, e-mail [email protected].

Did you know!

• The scientific name of the coffee tree is known as coffee arabica. It is native to Abyssinia and Ethiopia but also grows in other places.

• The bitter taste in coffee is not due to caffeine but to antioxidants.

• Café Scientifique was founded by Duncan Dallas in Leeds in 1998 and has become a worldwide phenomenon.

• Malta’s wild thyme honey has 80-90 per cent of thyme pollen, making it one of honeys with the highest percentage.

• Honey is antimicrobial, where some hospitals use medicinal honey to treat cuts and wounds.
For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• Studies have shown some benefits of drinking coffee, but what about when you are drinking a good amount of coffee? Can you have too much coffee? Well, pure, powdered caffeine is actually dangerous. According to the FDA, in 2014 two young men overdosed on pure, powdered caffeine. This shows the dangers of this concentrated product. The FDA has stated that just one teaspoon of pure, powdered caffeine has about the same amount of caffeine as 28 cups of regular coffee.

http://www.livescience.com

• Coffee is one of the most popular beverages. While some cannot wake up without that cup of coffee, a new study has found that coffee addiction may not actually be your fault.  It is your genes’ fault. Researchers have found a gene that is linked to how much coffee you consume. A genome-wide association study was conducted in Italy and Netherlands, where it was uncovered that the PDSS2 gene is linked to the consumption of the nectar of the gods.  The results of this study have highlighted that this novel gene that is linked with coffee consumption can provide new information about the genetic drivers behind coffee consumption. Further research on larger cohorts need to be conducted to confirm these findings.

http://www.nature.com/articles/srep31590

• The bodybuilder without a pulse. Hold a minute, how can this be? Andrew Jones lives an active lifestyle and is a professional fitness model and bodybuilder. Plenty of people go to the gym, but what’s surprising is that he has no pulse and currently does not have a self-functioning heart. At 20, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease which affects how well the heart can pump blood. Though he is currently awaiting a full heart transplant, he is using a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), which helps him perform his normal activities until a heart becomes available. This equipment consists of a battery pack and computer that help assist and control the technology assisting his heart. This means that in order to keep alive, he needs to plug in to an outlet every night.

http://futurism.com/meet-andrew-jones-the-bodybuilder-without-a-pulse/

• For more soundbites, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta 2 every Monday and Friday at 1pm https://www.facebook.com/RadioMochaMalta/

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