IT’S A WEDNESDAY NIGHT, and Against The Grain Brewery & Smokehouse is packed. Every table is full. The bar is shoulder to shoulder. Stragglers mill about, looking for a spot where they can stand and still see the show. No, it’s not live music that’s drawn this crowd. These people are here to have Beer With A Scientist.
It’s not long before Levi Beverly, PhD, a cancer researcher in the School of Medicine, grabs the microphone to get the event started. The entire restaurant quiets, making it even more apparent that every person in attendance is there just for this event.
“Hi, everyone. Welcome to Beer With A Scientist! Another month with another packed house,” Beverly says as he welcomes the crowd, which spans every demographic from 20-something foodies to astute science enthusiasts.
Beverly, the series’ creator and host, started Beer With A Scientist in an effort to move science out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere. “I wanted to get people in touch with real scientific information, but keep it extremely accessible so the general public can understand the science and the facts behind the topic,” he says.
It’s this goal of making science accessible that draws the crowds. Event attendee Amanda Lukas and her friends come to the events because it’s the perfect combination of interesting topics and a comfortable atmosphere. “You can learn in any environment, but because this is so approachable, you know it won’t be a lecture where everything will just go right over your head,” says Lukas.
The format for the event is simple: every month a different speaker delivers a 30-minute talk on the topic of his or her expertise. The audience is invited to ask questions, and then the speaker stays afterwards to chat with attendees one-on-one. There are always questions, and the speaker always stays until every question is answered. For Beverly, this format is all about accessibility, making sure that everyone gets their questions answered.
Speakers appreciate the focus on accessibility too. Pharmacology researcher Gavin Arteel, PhD, wanted to get involved, so he approached Beverly about being a speaker. “I’m a very strong believer that, as scientists, we have to be able to sing for our supper. So this venue is something I strongly believe in, and I applaud Levi for starting it,” says Arteel.
To this end, speakers from all disciplines “sing for their supper” at Beer With A Scientist. Astronomy, social justice, Neanderthals, aging and nanotechnology are just a few past topics. In the event that a scientific topic takes the national stage, like stem cell research or the Ebola epidemic, for example, Beverly makes sure to find a speaker to address it. “For the general person, it’s almost impossible to find real information.” So, he says, “It’s important to bring the information that people are talking about now.”
Attendee Jeremy Ohlemacher agrees, noting that the information he learns at Beer With A Scientist has potential to shape public discourse: “With a topic like stem cell research, people just think ‘no I just don’t like it,’ and it immediately shuts down that conversation. But if you have just a little bit of information, you can at least have a conversation about it.”
Of course, enthusiasm and community support of such magnitude was only a dream when Beverly first started Beer With A Scientist. But now, with regular crowds of around 120 people and counting, the series is showing no signs of slowing down. There are talks of expansion to accommodate more people and more speakers, so Louisville can keep indulging its love of science.
“That makes me happy,” Beverly says, “because that’s the whole point.”