SCIENCE IN THE PUB

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT - WORDS LINDA SMITH PHO­TOG­RA­PHER MATHEW FARRELL

Got a sci­en­tific ques­tion? Well head down to the lo­cal where they’ll have the an­swer.

You’ve got a burn­ing ques­tion. Maybe a health query about how your body works. Maybe you’re puz­zled by modern tech­nol­ogy. Per­haps you want to know more about outer space or in­sects or cli­mate change. Who do you ask?

Most turn to Google these days. How did we sur­vive with­out this know-it-all search en­gine? But it can be hard to de­ter­mine how re­li­able each source is, and science in­for­ma­tion isn’t al­ways pre­sented in an easy-to-un­der­stand way. Which is why Tas­ma­nian sci­en­tists Andy and Emily Flies started a free, monthly Science in the Pub event at North Ho­bart’s Repub­lic Bar, pre­sent­ing a panel of ex­perts to an­swer science ques­tions.

The for­mula has proved pop­u­lar with about 100 peo­ple turn­ing up to each ses­sion, and many more livestream­ing. The pro­gram re­cently won the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia Vice Chan­cel­lor’s Award for Out­stand­ing Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment while Emily, who or­gan­ises other science events, was named the STEM Com­mu­ni­ca­tor of the Year for Tas­ma­nia in 2017.

The hus­band and wife team started Science in the Pub in Ade­laide five years ago and de­cided to run a sim­i­lar event in Tas­ma­nia when they moved here three years ago. They’ve been de­lighted by the re­sponse. “Peo­ple just keep com­ing back and telling their friends and bring­ing peo­ple along,’’ Emily says. “And to us that’s a re­ally good sign, it means peo­ple are en­joy­ing us.’’

The big­gest strug­gle has been find­ing a large enough venue. They started at the New Syd­ney Ho­tel but moved to the Repub­lic Bar for more space. “When we con­cep­tu­alised the idea we thought about what would get peo­ple in the door and what would keep them com­ing back,” Emily says. “It was im­por­tant for us to make it free, and it was im­por­tant to us that it was ex­ter­nal to the univer­sity. It’s a re­laxed set­ting. Beer al­ways makes things a lit­tle more friendly and cor­dial.”

Half of those who at­tend have a bach­e­lor de­gree, 20 per cent of at­ten­dees have even higher level study, while the re­main­ing 30 per cent have not at­tended uni. The event at­tracts fam­i­lies with young chil­dren through to re­tirees, although the me­dian age is 45.

Three guest speak­ers ad­dress the crowd each month, talk­ing for no more than 15 min­utes each. Emily says short, con­cise pre­sen­ta­tions aim to give three dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on a sin­gle topic and are fol­lowed by a Q&A ses­sion as at­ten­dees en­joy a beer and a chat.

Emily and Andy hail from the US. They moved to Aus­tralia so Emily could fin­ish her PhD at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia.

Andy, a post­doc­toral re­searcher, is fas­ci­nated by the Tas­ma­nian devil and is work­ing to de­velop a vac­cine for the fa­cial tu­mour dis­ease that is dec­i­mat­ing devil pop­u­la­tions, which led the cou­ple to move to Ho­bart.

They have since gained per­ma­nent res­i­dency in Aus­tralia, bought a house in Le­nah Val­ley and have two chil­dren. Andy works at the Men­zies In­sti­tute, spe­cial­is­ing in wild im­mu­nity, while Emily is em­ployed as a post­doc­toral re­searcher at UTAS in the School of Nat­u­ral Sciences.

The next reg­u­lar Science in the Pub event runs on Fe­bru­ary 7 and then on the first Thurs­day of ev­ery month at The Repub­lic Bar in North Ho­bart from 6pm-7.30pm. For more info visit SciPubTas.org.au or face­book.com/sci­en­ceinthep­ub­tas­ma­nia

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