A new evening entertainment option is about to set sail on the Sacramento Grid — the new Sac Science Distilled series will premiere at Old Ironsides on Wednesday, September 21st at 6:00 p.m.
Sac Science Distilled (online: www.facebook.com/sacsciencedistilled) is the latest science café series to launch in the greater Sacramento region. Part of a popular international movement, organizers of science cafés and cafés scientifiques say they offer an informal, fun atmosphere for the general public to meet and talk with real-life scientists, and expand their minds a bit while on a night out.
And it doesn’t hurt that liquor and libations are flowing throughout the evening.
The new series was created by Sacramento residents Nicole Soltis and Bobby Castagna. The series receives production support from the Powerhouse Science Center, and promotional support from Capital Science Communicators.
“It’s going to be fun,” says Soltis, a PhD student at UC Davis studying plant biology. “There’s real science in it — real people talking about real research. But it’s supposed to be a little distilled down, into something that’s easily digestible in one sitting. Not too overwhelming, not too much background. Just some interesting ideas you can take home with you.”
And for the classroom-weary, Soltis says her bar-room events will be different: “You’re not going to a formal, boring lecture. We’re not trying to talk at you — we’re trying to spark a conversation, and we want people to get engaged, get curious, and ask questions.”
As a scientist, Soltis had a personal interest in learning how to better communicate with the general public. That curiosity led her and friend Bobby Castagna to attend a training workshop hosted by the World of Wonders Science Museum and the Powerhouse Science Center in Spring 2016. There, both of them realized an opportunity existed to revive a science café series in Sacramento proper, having witnessed their popularity in Davis and in Lodi.
“We just jumped on the idea,” Soltis laughs. “We just decided to team up and be the people to start it. Someone had to!”
Castagna hopes the new series will help bring a sense of community together in Sacramento, reaching out from its Southside Park location to the Central City and Midtown.
“We’re the capital of California — the most populated state in the entire Nation — and I believe we should have a science café to spread the ideas of science and also to promote science literacy,” says Castagna, a student of biology and photography at Sacramento City College. “There’s a lot of science ignorance prevailing lately, and I want to reverse that trend. We need to make science interesting and approachable, because a lot of people think science is far too complex and mysterious. I think this event will really help change that.”
The setting certainly helps. On a recent weeknight at the “Old I”, Castagna and Soltis were deep into a planning session with fellow organizers when the jukebox suddenly blurted on. A brainstorm on hands-on activities for upcoming cafés was oddly keeping beat with “Jessie’s Girl” over the speakers.
Rita Mukherjee Hoffstadt, Deputy Director of the Powerhouse Science Center, is excited for this break from traditional museum bounds. Powerhouse last hosted a science café series in 2011.
“One thing we want to do with our long-term planning of the museum — as we step into a new role in a new building — is to widen our walls, lower our floors, and raise our ceilings in terms of science content,” says Hoffstadt. “We want to give people easy access — and this is the perfect opportunity for someone to just come in off the street, and we can give them a bit of a dive into science. Which will hopefully spark an interest in science, and encourage them to build their own science identity.”
Identity seems to be another theme in the shared vision of the organizers.
“Sacramento’s got this burgeoning art scene that’s really growing. There’s a lot of self-made projects by local people trying to spread art and bringing community together around art,” says Soltis. “I do think there’s a bit of a gap in that type of entertainment, in terms of other areas of interest. I know there’s other people talking about doing more with science, and I’m hoping this is a start for that type of education — well, education linked with fun at a bar.”
Hoffstadt agrees. “You know, Sacramento is a science town. I just think that maybe not everybody’s aware of it yet. But we’re going to change that. Really, all three areas we care about as a science center — basic science, innovative technology, and understanding the implications and choices we have to make in our world — all of this is happening in Sacramento. So, Sac Science Distilled will be a great opportunity to showcase how we can get people thinking about all these different aspects of science, right here in Sacramento.”
— Ben Young Landis
Sac Science Distilled premieres on Wednesday, September 21st, at 6:00 p.m. at Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street, Sacramento, CA 95811. Admission is free, and RSVP on Facebook is encouraged (www.facebook.com/events/1099213423481438). The intended audiences is adults.
Learn more about local science cafés and upcoming speakers at www.capscicomm.wordpress.com/local-science-cafes.
Learn more about the Science Communication Fellowship training workshops offered by Powerhouse Science Center and World of Wonders Science Museum: www.powerhousesc.org/science-communication-fellowship