As the kickoff to a new and monthly “STEM Café” event, Northern Illinois University physics professor Suzanne Willis will discuss how pseudoscience has permeated our culture and how to distinguish fact from fiction in everything from late-night infomercials to the Mayan Calendar scare.
The inaugural STEM Café will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31, at Taxco Restaurant in Sycamore. Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by NIU STEM Outreach, which delivers off-campus programs and on-campus activities designed to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy.
STEM Café is a spinoff of the international Cafe Scientifique. The events are designed as fun, casual gatherings where adults can eat, drink and chat with STEM professionals about contemporary topics in science. Food and drinks will be available for purchase at host restaurants.
Willis will deliver a 20- to 30-minute talk, followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session.
A veteran physics professor, Willis has conducted research in experimental high energy physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and CERN in Europe. She also has taught courses in and written about debunking pseudoscienceand has given talks about the dangers of pseudoscience to skeptic groups throughout the region.
She is excited to take science out of the lab and into a public forum.
“I’m really interested in sharing what is and what isn’t science,” Willis said. “People hear a lot of statements in the media, on Facebook, and elsewhere, that sound like they have scientific underpinnings, but it is difficult for the average person to tell sense from nonsense.”
Willis plans to discuss some of the warning signs of pseudoscience and offer some resources for curious consumers. She will also talk about 2012 predictions for the end of the world.
“I’ll share some of the ways the Earth might meet its demise, which it surely will, although almost certainly not this year,” Willis said.
Patricia Sievert, director of NIU STEM Outreach, is hoping for a strong turnout for the inaugural STEM Cafe.
“Our STEM Outreach has been highly successful with students across the region, but this represents our first undertaking with an audience of adults,” she said. “We want to engage the public in friendly conversations with our NIU scientists on the latest research breakthroughs or scientific issues that are of general interest.”
Similar Café Scientifique events have attracted large audiences across the country and world, according to Judith Dymond of NIU Outreach, who is coordinating the STEM Cafés.
“The events are fun, but they have a purpose, too, in helping to demystify science and technology and raise scientific literacy,” Dymond said.
Future topics will include:
- This is Your Brain on Social Networking
- The Trouble with Asian Carp
- Making Things Cleaner
- Making Things Stronger
- Making Things Smaller
- Making Things Smarter