Beaker Boon

Chemical Reaction

Want to unlock the mysteries of science? Start with a beer.

By Jonathan Fine May 19, 2009 Published in the July 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Troy Cummings

ON A BALMY May evening, one of the first warm nights of the year, about 150 Portlanders have forgone parks and porches in favor of the mood-lit Mission Theater & Pub on NW Glisan Street, where the aroma of hamburgers and Hammerhead Ale hangs in the air. But this crowd—an eclectic mix of college students, middle-aged couples, and seniors—isn’t just here for brews and burgers. They’re here in the name of science. Really. More specifically, they’re here for Science Pub, a monthly gathering hosted by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).

The formula behind Science Pub, says host Amanda Thomas, OMSI’s 33-year-old coordinator of adult programs, is Beer + Science = Good Times. And sometimes even a good idea.

“People come because they’re smart and interested in the world,” Thomas says. “And because drinking and learning are a natural fit.”

Judging by the buoyant mood of tonight’s crowd, the formula works. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this evening’s topic, “Sex, Relationships, and Technology,” isn’t exactly a yawner.

Launched in August 2006 to bring science to the masses, Science Pub previously took place at the BridgePort Brewpub in the Pearl, a venue that comfortably held about 100. But when, in March, Thomas had to turn away more than 100 people (including a pair of die-hards who’d come from Hood River), she knew it was time to find a larger home—hence the move to the Mission, which can seat roughly 250.

The discussion group’s popularity shouldn’t be a surprise given the revival of science salons across the country. In fact,, a sort of networking site for people looking for science meet-ups, boasts more than 50 “science cafés” all over the country, including Seattle, New York—even Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

After a sex-themed trivia game, Dr. L. Kris Gowen, a lecturer at Portland State University’s School of Community Health, launches into a PowerPoint-assisted talk that wanders from cyberdating to “teledildonics” (i.e., remote-control sex toys, the latest way to reach out and touch someone). As people shout out questions and comments, Thomas does her best Phil Donahue imitation, weaving among the tables with a microphone.

Of course, not every Science Pub relies on titillating subjects to draw a crowd. Topics like hearing loss, invasive species, and arthritis require a little more lubrication to get the crowd excited.

Which is precisely where the beer comes in.

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