It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday night, and the back room of Manuel’s Tavern is packed. No, there’s not an election, and the World Series is months away. These patrons are waiting to hear about breakthroughs in synthetic biology. The crowd ranges from tattooed hipsters wearing Converse sneakers, planning a night of postlecture barhopping, to retired software engineers in horn-rimmed glasses, gesticulating passionately about the possibilities of reclaiming long-forgotten genes. In a quiet corner sit two couples in their mid-thirties on a self-described “nerd date.” This is the Atlanta Science Tavern, which hosts presentations for science enthusiasts in nonscientific jargon.
The Tavern has more than 1,000 members on its meetup.com page. Josh Gough, an independent software developer, and his friend Carol Potter, a high school biology teacher, founded the Atlanta organization in July 2008 after hearing about the Science Cafe movement started by Public Broadcasting and NOVA ScienceNow. There are some 130 “cafes” across the country, gatherings where professional scientists share their expertise with curious amateurs. At the first Atlanta meeting, Gough himself discussed virtual reality with only seven people at the Thinking Man Tavern, a venue the association quickly outgrew.
The group now offers talks by local researchers, monthly free-form discussions, podcasts, trivia nights, school outreaches, and field trips. Topics have included astrophysics, evolution, quantum behavior, and ecology. In the words of member Marshall Vandegrift, “the geek shall inherit the earth”—or at least the back room at Manuel’s. atlantasciencetavern.com
Illustration by Wesley Bedrosian