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Science And Beer, A Marriage Made In, Well, Pubs Of Course

OPB | June 1, 2009 9:06 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:11 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Kristian Foden-Vencil

While there’s a certain enjoyment to rooting for your favorite contestant on American Idol,  TV — and movies for that matter — can sometimes leave you intellectually wanting.

To satisfy that need  a growing number of pubs  are putting on lectures and quizzes to attract customers.

OMSI’s science pub has become so popular that Monday it opens at a second location in Portland.

Kristian Foden-Vencil attended a science pub and files this report.


It’s 7 o’clock on a Thursday night and the Mission Theatre in Northwest Portland is packed.

Close to 300 people have turned up to learn about undersea volcanoes.

Sandra Caraco is a software engineer.

Sandra Caraco: “It’s marvelous, I really love the intellectual food that they serve up. It’s as tasty as the beer.”

Scott Fry is a high-tech consultant.

Scott Fry: “This technology really appeals to me, the nanotechnology, the science of fractals was an amazing lecture. Things you never thought you’d be interested in, you come here and you realize how relevant they are to your own life. So very entertaining and enlightening at the same time.”

Nearby, Bill Chadwick, nurses a beer. He’s a research professor at Oregon State University and he's tonight’s speaker.

He doesn’t usually teach, he spends his time crunching numbers in a lab or doing research out on the ocean.  So he’s a tad nervous, but says mixing science and beer is a great way to make an intimidating subject approachable — and there’s no test afterwards.

Bill Chadwick: “You know, there’s lots of ways to learn. I think people are interested in the world and this is a way to find out a little bit about something they might be interested in.”

Kristian: “How is it seen among scientists? Is it slumming it a little bit?”

Bill Chadwick: “No I think it’s viewed as an important thing. Because more and more science has to justify itself to the public who pays for it. So this is part of the job more and more.”

It’s not just science that’s in pubs. Trivia quizes, checkers and other games have long been tavern staples. But now there are spelling bees and Ben Wehee, who supports science cafes around the U.S., says he’s even heard of knitting pubs. But he says, there seems to be some kind of connection between beer and science.

Ben Wehee: “Now we’ve grown to over 100 of these, meeting multiple times a year in different locations around the U.S. And they’ve also spread globally as well and all of this has kind of grown in a grass roots nature.”

Back at the Mission Theatre, Rebecca Hoffman says science pubs are both fascinating and free.

Rebecca Hoffman: “Science is very important on a number of levels for the country.”

Kristian: “So how important is the beer. Would you come if it was just science and lemonade?”

Rebecca Hoffman: “I might actually come if it was science and lemonade. But the beer is very nice. I think that it adds to the ambiance let’s put it that way.”

OMSI starts its second science pub at the Bagdad Theatre in Portland Monday. Forensic Scientist Kori Barnum is expected to debunk 10 myths from the TV show: CSI.

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