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Socializing over Science

The 2011 Philadelphia Science Festival taught us a variety of important scientific concepts, such as how to use a telescope, what an augmented future looks like, and even the ways in which chocolate pleases the senses. With a lineup of casual Café and Food Events at local Philadelphia venues, we also witnessed the powerful role of socialization, discussion, and community in the world of science. As participants bonded over local beers from Yards Brewery and delectable chocolates from across the world, we started wondering – maybe science doesn’t just happen by lone masterminds in a laboratory?

In fact, history’s most brilliant scientists were not solitary hermits, as stereotypes may suggest. When Renaissance thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, and Galileo were crafting fresh ways to understand the universe, they were not tucked away in separate spaces. Rather, cities such as Florence and Rome provided ample opportunity for discussion and casual socializing in gardens, forums, and street markets, leading many historians to argue that the Renaissance occurred with such fervor thanks to the communal environment that these spaces created.

As depicted in Raphael’s School of Athens, Italian architecture was designed for socializing, particularly for scholars.

Across the Atlantic Ocean a few centuries later, Thomas Edison was applying the same approach to his scientific research. By assembling diverse teams of inventors at Menlo Park Laboratory, Edison created an environment that was conducive to open communication and efficient creativity. Teams of researchers – not just Edison alone – worked on a host of inventions, including the light bulb. Scientific discussion proved just as useful to Charles Darwin, who communicated with a variety of European scholars and may not have published his ideas about natural selection had it not been for his correspondence – and competition – with Alfred Russel Wallace.

Today in Philadelphia, you won’t find Aristotle and Plato walking side-by-side down the steps of the Art Museum or through Love Park, but you may find the likes of them in the nearest drinking establishment. The 2011 Philadelphia Science Festival featured several activities in local venues, including “The Science of Beer and Cheese” at Triumph Brewing Company and A Luminary-Infused Quizzo at City Tap House. Events such as these provided spaces for scientifically-minded folks to meet, greet, and savor the intellect of featured scientists. The 2011 Festival has concluded, but luckily for you and your taste buds, the science socializing has not. Philadelphia offers a host of science cafes, movie nights, and more, as almost every science organization in the city sponsors some sort of programming.

A monthly gathering known as “Science on Tap” is a quintessential example of such scientifically-social events. The program features an informal presentation by a scientist followed by lively discussion, helping to bring science out of the laboratory and into public space. As Gigi Naglak from the Chemical Heritage Foundation states, “I can’t overemphasize the role that casual programs like Science on Tap have for creating a feeling of fun and engagement in the sciences and for helping people think outside of their own box – whether that box be the specialization of the scientists in his/her own work or the non-scientist who thinks that maybe he/she doesn’t have a place in a discussion about science.”

If you have a thirst for knowledge as well as 32 different varieties of beer, stop by National Mechanics at 6 pm on Monday, July 11th for the next Science on Tap. The event will feature theater director Thaddeus Phillips and is sponsored by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, one of five founders and co-presenters of the Science on Tap program. Phillips will discuss WHaLE OPTICS, a new scientific/theatrical/musical epic that explores worldwide communication systems, our perception of human/animal communication, and humpback whale songs. Naglak promises the event to be “fun, spirited, and accessible,” with a sure tendency to “generate that spirit of discovery and excitement about science that people have as children and often lose as we become adults.”

It’s a night of science, socializing, and sub-oceanic fiber optics that you won’t want to miss.


Science on Tap

Date: July 11, 2011

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Venue: National Mechanics
22 S. Third Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Presented by: The Chemical Heritage Foundation

Notes: Open to the public (age 21+ or accompanied by chaperone 25 years or older), Free!

For more information:



About the Writer: Ashley Juavinett is the Philadelphia Science Festival Intern for the Summer of 2011, recent graduate of Lafayette College, and soon-to-be PhD student at the University of California, San Diego.