An eager crowd filled up on tacos and science at the premiere of
An eager crowd filled up on tacos and science at the premiere of “Science Night Live” at the WOW Science Museum in Lodi on November 5, 2014.

Months in the planning, the World of Wonders Science Museum in Lodi at last debuted its new science café series on Wednesday, November 5th. The premiere of “Science Night Live” drew a healthy attendance—all eager to learn about the science of organic chemistry.

“So what is organic chemistry? Can anyone take a guess?” asked Dr. Jared Shaw, the UC Davis chemistry professor who served as the series’ inaugural speaker. “Well, I’ll tell you this… it’s not extra-expensive chemistry you can only buy at Whole Foods.”

UC Davis Chemistry Professor Jared Shaw was the guest for the first-ever Science Night Live event in Lodi.
UC Davis Chemistry Professor Jared Shaw was the guest for the first-ever Science Night Live event in Lodi.

That set the lighthearted tone for the night, which drew laughs and “aaaahs” from the rapt audience. Over the course of the evening, Shaw explained the history and future of organic chemistry and how it intersects with everyday life, from aspirin to airport security, to gin and tonics and antibiotics.

It’s familiar territory for Shaw, who happens to be the founder and organizer of the popular Davis Science Café series.

“I really enjoyed working with Nick and World of Wonder to kick off their science café series,” says Shaw. “I’ve found that many people really enjoy hearing about science, but don’t have the opportunity to do so outside of a classroom.”

Shaw is referring to Nick Gray, the brain behind Science Night Live and the Education Program Coordinator at the WOW Science Museum. A recent arrival to the Capital Region, Gray had been seeking to replicate the science cafés and trivia nights he had hosted while living in Ohio. A web search led him to connect with Capital Science Communicators and Shaw’s Davis Science Café.

“I think the inaugural Science Night Live went well, considering it was a first for pretty much everyone involved except the speaker,” says Gray. “The energy was high, the presentation was fascinating, and the food was spectacular—definitely a good foundation to build upon!”

Interaction was an emphasis for the evening. Shaw brought a variety of props to pass around the audience, including herbs, vials, molecular models, and participants even built their own chemical models using Dots candy and toothpicks.

“It’s great to convey to people the interesting experiments that we’re doing in the lab and how they might help address real-world problems,” says Shaw. “Also, I think many people can connect to the idea of building things, which is why I love the Tinkertoy analogy for synthetic chemistry.”

Intriguingly, missteps by participants in the model assembly became teaching moments for Shaw, who explained how even slight errors in lab-created chemical structures can have drastic consequences—perhaps the difference between creating a harmful teratogen, or unexpectedly inventing a new antibiotic.

The museum is embracing this participatory public experience, and already has scientist speakers scheduled for coming months.

“​The World of Wonders Science Museum is thrilled to bring its very own ​spin on a ​“science café”, Science Night Live​,​ to Lodi,” says Sally Snyde, President of the WOW Science Museum. “We look forward to engaging local scientists and adults in casual conversation all about the world around them through science. ​I love the informal atmosphere and hands-on experience where everyone is encouraged to participate.”

Interested in future science café events? Head to our Local Science Cafés guide to learn more: www.capscicomm.org/local-science-cafes and also visit www.wowsciencemuseum.org/science-night-live for SNL news.

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