This post is by MSU grad student Kenna Lehmann
In the summer of 2016, my roommates and I found a new activity: Astronomy on Tap – Lansing. This monthly event pairs MSU astronomers with beer and trivia and serves it up to a lay audience. This event is a stressed out graduate student’s dream: the opportunity to sit back with a beer and enjoy some interesting, easily digestible science (that has nothing to do with their dissertation). After a few months of pure enjoyment, my friends and I began to wonder what Biology on Tap would look like. By the end of the night, we were excitedly planning and getting advice from the Astronomy on Tap organizer. A few weeks later, Biology on Tap was born!
We kept things simple and stole the entire format from Astronomy on Tap. Every night starts with a brief introduction from our host of the night, followed by a 15-20 minute talk, an intermission with trivia, and a second 15-20 minute talk. Each talk is geared toward a lay, slightly inebriated audience looking to have a good time and enjoy some science. All of our speakers are MSU grad students, post-docs, or faculty members coming from a wide range of biology departments. We have had talks on topics ranging from “why is California always on fire?” to how microbes are spread via rain. Most talks focus on a biological idea or process with a bit of data sprinkled in here and there. Sometimes there is audience participation, occasionally a bit of dancing, and always some science to wash down with a good beer.
During intermission we entertain the crowd and get people arguing with some biology trivia. The trivia questions have included topics such as:
Is this clashing or courting?
Where did this organism originate?
Is it a gene?
The trivia serves a second function. Everyone that completes the trivia is automatically entered into a raffle for biology themed prizes. We have given away mugs, books, fire starters, and fungi gardens. At the end of the night, we post the answers and enjoy the cheers and groans when people learn whether they got the answer right or wrong.
We are now in our second year and Biology on Tap has been an immensely rewarding outreach experience. Our crowds have grown from ~35 of our friends and department mates to anywhere from 80 to 130 people. We have a few die-hards that come every single month and every month has brought us some first-timers. Our crowds are engaged and evidence suggests they appreciate and enjoy what we do. As a result, we have been lucky to subsist completely on donations. The generosity of our audience has allowed us to buy new prizes every month and spend a little on Facebook advertising.
While Biology on Tap has been much more successful than we could have imagined, we do have one little hang-up. The majority of our patrons are from MSU. We would love to have more lay people attend and enjoy what our MSU scientists have to share. Unfortunately, current advertising is heavily skewed towards our own social networks. We rely on Facebook and Twitter to get the word out and it has been difficult to break out of our academic bubble and attract a greater proportion of the lay public. If you know someone that may want to join us for an evening of science and beer, please invite them! We have also been working to get signs up in coffee shops and bars around Lansing. If you frequent a place that could use a sign, let us know! If you have other ideas or strategies for attracting a lay, public audience, we would love to hear from you!
If Biology on Tap sounds like fun, join us at 7:30 this Tuesday, May 22ndat The Loft!