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Coffee and curiosity collide in Boscombe's scientific cafe

Bournemouth’s very own Café Scientifique meets in Café Boscanova, attracting scientists and interest amateurs in Boscombe once a month to contribute towards the global phenomenon of science cafes.

Café Scientifique in Bournemouth has been running for just over two years. Subjects discussed have ranged from children’s healthcare in the UK, to the development of prosthetics in sports and Doctor Who. There is a topic for everybody.

A normal night consists of a short talk from a guest speaker, followed by an engaging debate and discussion around the topic. You don’t need to be an up and coming Einstein to turn the evening into an entertaining night out.

The informal approach is the core of the science café. “We try to keep it very uncorporate, so that people won’t feel it’s too academic for them to get involved. That’s why we don’t held the events on campus but rather go out to the community”, says Naomi Kay, one of the organisers.

There are currently 70 cafés meeting regularly around the world.

In Bournemouth, the science cafe started as a collaboration of four people. “There were two sets of us: Rebecca Edwards, who at the time was the public engagement officer at Bournemouth University. There were also some colleagues over at the AECC, which is the chiropractic college, who were also talking of setting one up”, Kay explains, “Rebecca wrote a post on a research blog that we had, saying that we should start a Café Scientifique, and then they got in touch and collaborated together.”

At the time, Kay was on her placement as an events organiser. She joined the others and the four of them set up the first event. The group got in touch with Café Boscanova and presented their idea. Luckily, the café owners were very keen to host the event and Café Scientifique has been held there ever since.

“We like to choose topics with a little bit of controversy around it, so that you can have some good debate and discussion afterwards”, Kay says.

In December 2014, Bournemouth University’s Forensic Society had the opportunity to organise an event. Communications officer of the Forensic Society, Katrina Packham, says that they were asked to host

the event by the organisers of Cafe Scientifique at the University’s outreach programme. “We welcomed the chance to give people an introduction to what goes on at a crime scene and an opportunity to try out some practical methods for themselves”, she added.

The event was called ‘Who Stole Christmas’ adding a twist to the traditional night to keep the evening lighthearted and fun. She found the experience invaluable as Society members were able to learn from it too: “All practise is good for the future. Now we’ve learned a lot about planning and organising an event, and also public speaking”.

Packham feels that Cafe Scientifique is an amazing way to make science more accessible in a more relaxing environment.

Greg Atholwood from Melbourne Australia also visited the Christmas event. He had seen a flyer in the café, which had enticed him to return later in the evening. As he was in his last year in a paramedic degree he was curious to learn more about the forensic sciences.

For him the evening was a success: “Fantastic. Loved it! Tonight was about good brain stimulation
and meeting wonderful people.”

He continued by praising the Bournemouth Forensic society for organising the Christmas event and commended them for their hard work. “They’ve done a great job. They are all good communicators and friendly, and obviously have a passion for what they are doing”, he said.

Engaging the public with scientific research is one the reasons why Kay wanted to be a part of Café Scientifique.

Kay says: “Scientific research is funded by society, and the money comes from your taxes. A lot of times in the past that research hasn’t been particularly relevant to society, so it just gets published in a journal and no-one ever reads it again.”

According to Kay, public engagement enables the research to be shared more widely with the public who paid for it. “My feeling is, we should be sharing it, because if they paid for it, they should be able to know what came out of it”.

The café gives something back to the organisers as well. “I’m now full of useless knowledge!” Kay laughs. Being a speaker at the science café is also beneficial for the academics.

“One time there was a talk about prosthetics and we started to talk about cyborgs.

There was a 10-year-old kid there, and the questions he came up with were just so crazy and such fresh thinking because he hasn’t been told ‘oh, you can’t do that’ yet.

“These kind of experiences can give the academic something to think about with his research.”