Scientists Share Astronomy With Public In Unusual Way On South Coast

Mar 10, 2017

When you learn about research being conducted on the universe, you usually hear about it in the news, a lecture hall or a conference. But, now, astronomers on the South Coast are talking about their research to the general public in an unlikely place.

A bartender is shaking up a cocktail for a customer at the M8trx Nightclub and Lounge on State Street where 250 people have packed it to capacity. It seems like a typical night at a crowded bar. That’s until Iair Arcavi, an astronomer who’s doing postdoctoral research at UC Santa Barbara and Las Cumbres Observatory in Goleta, steps on stage.

“First part of outstanding facts about the universe – the first five outstanding facts from this evening. The first one is going to be given by Sarah who studies the solar system, and she’s going to tell us about that.”

He said this enthusiastic audience will learn fascinating things about astronomy.

“I asked every astronomer to think about one outstanding fact related to their research, and they have four minutes to convey that. And we’re going to go lightning round astronomy talks,” he said.

Tonight is Astronomy on Tap Santa Barbara, a free monthly event where scientists talk about astronomy during short presentations at a bar filled with mostly non-scientists drinking beer, wine and mixed drinks. Arcavi, who saw other cities around the nation and the world doing their own Astronomy on Taps, decided to start one here and collaborated with Las Cumbres Observatory to host them for the general public.

“We want to reach an audience that does not typically go to science talks at a university or an auditorium, even public talks. We want to reach a different audience that feels more comfortable going to a bar and listening to this thing than going to some formal setting,” he said.

Sarah Greenstreet, a planetary astronomer, talks about space exploration missions in the solar system.

“I almost enjoy getting to talk to the public more than I do scientists – even though there you can talk more about the details of what we actually do. Here just getting people excited about astronomy in general is really what gets me excited.”

Other astronomers talk about life outside earth, preventing the next asteroid mass extinction and the recent discovery of seven earth-like planets orbiting one star.

All exciting topics for Jim Fulkerson of Santa Barbara who works in sales but wants to feed his curiosity about the universe

“We all stand every night and look up at the night sky and we know so little about it. It’s so immense and expansive. I just find it absolutely fascinating,” he said.

Many college students attend Astronomy on Tap. Mitchell Pagliuso, a UCSB 4th year global studies major, said the bar atmosphere has a cool vibe.

“It gets you a break from campus, break from lecture hall, and socializing, having fun and learning about cool stuff.”

He and others sit back and relax, enjoy an alcoholic beverage as they learn about outer space.

Griffin Hosseinzadeh, a UCSB PhD student in astrophysics who does research on supernovae -- or star explosions -- at the observatory, is one of the organizers and speakers.

“I like to always tell people that the only difference between you sitting in the audience and me on stage is that I’ve had some scientific training. But the excitement is the same for you and me,” he said.

The next Astronomy on Tap is on Wednesday, April 5 at 7:30 pm at the M8RX Nightclub and Lounge in Santa Barbara.