Feb. 17 2011 12:00 AM

LCC professor brings informal science gatherings to the Lansing area

Talking genes, the universe and climate change while drinking peppermint mocha or a shot of tequila — that’s how some people are learning science in Lansing.

Once a month, Lansing Community College’s Caf Scientifique attracts a number of people to discuss and explore science in a local caf, bar or bookstore.

“It is very informal, not as in a classroom,” said Alex Azima, a LCC physics professor and coordinator of the Caf Scientifique.

The program is held on the third Tuesday of each month from September through May. It starts with a 20-minute to hour-long presentation by local experts followed by questions and discussions.

“What we are trying to do is to present topics and ideas in science that are interesting and exciting for people to find out about,” Azima said.

Azima learned about the idea of a science caf in 2007 from a board meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in Toronto. But the idea isn’t new. The British started the program in 1998. Now it has spread all over the world, according to International Caf Scientifique.

“It’s a great idea. Why can’t we do it in Lansing?” Azima thought aloud.

With the support of his colleagues, Azima initiated Caf Scientifique in the fall of 2007. It was the first in the area. Each month he invites a professor or an expert from LCC, Michigan State University or local science centers to give a presentation and lead the discussion. A March 15 gathering will discuss genes, while climate change is on tap for April 19.

The program has covered various topics from water management and human brain functions to solar energy and the universe.

Each session attracts between 20 to 40 people — sometimes 60 — Azima said. Some are faculty and students from LCC, while some are in high school. But most are the general public.

People tend to show greater interest in controversial issues, such as climate change, evolution and stem cell research, Azima said. He added that Caf Scientifique allows the public to interact directly with scientists and debate those issues.

Although the caf is a forum of pure science discussion, Azima said it better informs the public of science issues, which in turn sheds light on the policy-making process when it comes to scientific issues.

David Hill, a 59-year-old information analyst with the state, has participated in the program since 2009. He said Caf Scientifique makes science accessible — especially for those who are interested in science but may not have the time or money to attend formal classes.

“I can talk about my opinions and discuss with others,” Hill said. “It’s very interesting and stimulating.”

Scientists also benefit from such interactions.

Alex Krusza, an adjunct instructor in LCC’s Math Department, is fascinated about nutrition and food. He is leading the next Caf Scientifique with a presentation on healthy diets.

“I am extremely excited about it and completely in love with this idea that a man can take a science topic that he is interested in and talk about it,” Krusza said.

 Café Scientifique

Future Café Scientifique dates and topics of discussion are March 15 “The ‘Warrior’ Gene” and April 19 “Confusing Climate: The Role of Images in Conveying Climate Change.” If you have any questions, please  contact Alex Azima by phone (517) 483-1110 or by e-mail alex@lcc.edu.