Lecturers move talks to informal venues

Some of LSU’s most interesting faculty members are bypassing the sometimes stuffy lecture hall setting and reaching out to the community in a different way.

LSU’s Science Cafe series started a few months ago at Chelsea’s Cafe on Perkins Road and features a different LSU faculty member each month giving informal talks about their specialities, said Ashley Berthelot, an LSU media relations spokeswoman who took the concept to the university as a new form of community outreach.

“It’s very informal and casual. It’s not a lecture. It allows experts in a field to interact with the community in a comfortable setting,” Berthelot said.

Berthelot said the concept of science cafes goes back a decade or so with roots in Europe.

According to the website, http://www.sciencecafes.org, science cafes represent a grass roots movement that exists all over the world and many of the science cafes in the United States draw inspiration from Cafe Scientifique, a network based in the United Kingdom.

Although the series uses the word science, participating faculty members represent a variety of specialities including musicians and artists, Berthelot said.

The series is funded by LSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development.

All ages are welcome at the monthly events which feature networking, free food, drink specials and giveaways. The doors open at 5 p.m. and, following the networking, the speaker gives a talk for about 20 minutes before an extensive question and answer session, Berthelot said.

“We have been averaging about 70 to 75 people an event,” Berthelot said.

LSU criminologist Matthew Lee was the series’ second speaker. He spoke about the causes and consequences of violence in a community.

“It was great and we had a lot of interesting back and forth,” Lee said.

Lee said that in a traditional lecture hall setting, the speakers usually get students who are very familiar with the material because they have been studying it for a time.

“It can be tricky to boil everything down for a general audience,” Lee said.

Lee also said one of the great things about the LSU Science Cafe is most people in the community already know about the university’s popular sports programs but the series can tout other important programs at the school. The hope is to engage with the community so they know about everything the university has to offer, Lee said.

The next speaker in the series is Ed Overton, professor emeritus of environmental science in LSU’s School of Coast and Environment.

Overton will speak Tuesday night about the BP oil spill and how the disaster has impacted the Louisiana coast.

For more information about Tuesday’s talk or general information about the series, call (225) 578-3870.