There are two ways to approach holding science talks in a bar or restaurant – programs that have names like Science Cafe or Science by the Pint or Science on Tap.

One is to invited local scientists to talk about their research. That’s the route frequently taken by universities, including a trio of talks from UNH professors coming up soon (May 20, 21 and 22) at bars in Dover and Kittery, Maine, in connection with an international event called Pint of Science.

This is, of course, a great idea. Hearing directly from researchers about cutting-edge discoveries (or flops, those are fun too) is awesome.

But that method – start with the person then develop the topic – can become kind of lecture-y and in my experience tends to fizzle out over time when the sponsoring school has used up the obvious candidates.

The other approach is the one taken by Science Cafe New Hampshire. I think it explains why our grassroots program is still going strong in two cities after eight years: Choose then topic first, then find researchers or other knowledgeable folk to answer questions about it. (This is also the approach used by Science on Tap, a long-running program run by the SEE Science Center in Manchester.)

It’s easier to start with the person because finding panelists who have the time and expertise for topics can be a pain (I speak from long experience) but starting with the topic is more robust and makes for a better experience. We often turn people away at Science Cafe NH events.

Either way, however, I like to say that New Hampshire has the nation’s highest per-capita rate of science cafes. Hooray for us!

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