Extracurricular Activities

Science Cafes in New York City

One of the benefits of living in a big city is that for every and any niche subject, hobby or interest you might be keen on, you can find others to enjoy it with. Often there are enough similarly-minded people to form a critical mass that can sustain relevant themed bars, restaurants or regular events. A restaurant that serves only garlic-flavoured food and drinks? No problem.  Halloween costume parade for your dog? Come on down!

With such a ‘niche’ general interest in science, during my time in New York City I naturally sought out as many so-called ‘Science Cafes’ as I could find. For the uninitiated, these events are typically hosted in bars or restaurants and cater for the scientifically-curious lay public. A professional scientist gives a general, lively talk on their work, and you get to geek out with others over a glass of your favourite tipple. Here I wanted to highlight a few I enjoyed in 2015-2017. As far as I know, these are all still currently active, so go check them out if you get chance!

 Secret Science Club
Bell House, Gowanus, Brooklyn / Symphony Space, Manhattan

One of the best curators in town, the Secret Science Club hosts regular (~monthly) free events at the Bell House and low-cost ticketed events at Symphony Space – each with a themed cocktail to boot! I learnt about the intelligence of dolphins from Diana Reiss, and enjoyed thought-provoking talks on the “Anatomy of Love” by Helen Fisher and the “Selfish Gene & Beyond” by Richard Dawkins. The Bell House has a smaller bar up front and a much bigger space at the back where the talks are given. Seating is available but limited, and the house fills up quickly, so get there early! If possible, try to predict the how much draw the speaker will have. Although there is usually plenty of standing room, some events are so popular you can’t make it into the main room to see the stage (though they do put the audio on speakers throughout). For the ticketed events at Symphony Space this is not an issue, but these can sell out quickly. Follow their blog at the link above to get the information at the earliest possibility!

Entertaining Science
Cornelia Street Cafe, Greenwich Village, Manhattan

A must-attend for anyone with an interest in Chemistry (and cabaret), this monthly event is curated by 1981 Nobel prize winner Roald Hoffmann. Attended by the man himself, the evening follows a unique, science-talk and matched arts-performance format. It was great to see my post-doctoral advisor take the floor, and the tribute event for Oliver Sacks was particularly moving. The seating-only space is cosy and intimate, with excellent food and drink options. Advance booking is recommended.

Roald Hoffmann talking about Oliver Sacks

American Museum of Natural History SciCafe (AMNH SciCafe)
American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side

This monthly offering by the AMNH takes place in a large and unusual space within the museum itself. For some reason, I found this event fun just because you are in a public space after hours – helped of course by the fact that alcoholic drinks and snacks are also available. These events are typically standing-only, subscribe to the AMNH Adult Programs Email Newsletter for the best chance to secure tickets.

Star-Gazing Night
Columbia University, Upper West Side, Manhattan

During the academic year, head into the Physics Department at Columbia University for an evening of public lecture and (weather-permitting) actual star-gazing on the rooftop of the Pupin building. Telescopes are of course provided. I’m sad to say that I never got the chance to look out into space, but the lecture focussed on the first experimental reports of gravitational wave detection was superb.

The Explorers Club
Club Headquarters, Upper East Side, Manhattan

A fantastic venue with some fantastic speakers, focussed predominately on the trials and tribulations of human exploration past and present. Entering on the ground floor you are presented by globes and various impressive articles of expedition. At the first floor you meet taxidermied bears and sit in talks surrounded by Explorer Club flags that have been to the farthest reaches of our world. Worthy of mention is the flag taken by James Cameron to the bottom of the Mariana Trench! I was privileged to hear a talk by Mike Massimino, retired NASO astronaut, on his experiences of space exploration. He also told an inspiring story on the importance of perseverance – unsuccessfully applying several times for the astronaut program at NASA but never giving up on his dream.

This flag went with James Cameron to the bottom of the Mariana Trench!

Did you attend any of these? Did I miss any great New York Science Cafes? Comment below!