How to…Start a Science Cafe

WHAT: Science cafes represent a rapidly growing informal science education activity, with over 250 versions in existence nationally, spread across 48 states and the District of Columbia. Formats vary, but the main café structure involves a brief talk by a speaker, followed by a question and answer period with the audience. Organizers often solicit event topic requests from attendees, and recruit speakers primarily from local universities, while industry professionals and other non-academics also participate. 

WHERE: Cafes are held at a local establishment, often at bars or restaurants. Admission is generally not charged, though attendees are encouraged to purchase food and drinks. This situation is a consequence of cafes typically being held in neighborhoods and establishments that are frequented by these specific audiences. 

WHEN: The best way to ensure substantial attendance is to have regularly scheduled events (e.g. first Tuesday of every month).  

WHY: Science cafes aim to provide members of the public the opportunity to interact with scientists in a casual, non-professional setting. The purpose of science cafes has been described as “demythologizing science communication… [by] bringing it into everyday life.” In that vein, the underlying theme for science café discussions is relatability for the audience; for example, the science of beer brewing is a popular topic….  

WHO: Anyone can attend, though cafes are aimed for adult audiences. The audience for science cafes is generally self-selecting, with attendees choosing to attend events rather than serendipitously discovering them (though some cafes have reported success with walk-in attendees).  

Cafes are run and supported by a variety of groups. Some are directly sponsored by universities, while others are hosted by science museums as part of their informal education programs. Local chapters of both the American Chemical Society and Sigma Xi are often involved in science cafes, mainly as event organizers. Smaller local organizations also host cafes, usually in conjunction with one or more of the larger types of groups mentioned above.  


MORE INFORMATION: See contains an extensive list of resources for café organizers, including primers on how to get started, a map of existing cafes, and other logistical details.