How to start a science cafe
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 cafe 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 nonacademics also participate.
Cafes are held at a local establishment, often a bar or restaurant. Generally, no admission is 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.
The best way to ensure substantial attendance is to have regularly scheduled events (e.g., the first Tuesday of every month).
Science cafes aim to provide members of the public the opportunity to interact with scientists in a casual, nonprofessional 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 cafe discussions is relatability for the audience; for example, the science of beer brewing is a popular topic.
Anyone can attend, though cafes are aimed at 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.
An extensive list of resources for cafe organizers can be found at sciencecafes.org, including primers on how to get started, a map of existing cafes and other logistical details.