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THE BUZZ: Raising a Pint to Science

Raising a pint to science, courtesy Ashley Juavinett

Raising a Pint to Science

Article by Rebecca Romani

Ever thought about hanging out with your favorite scientist, sharing a beer, asking a question, maybe cracking a joke you would both enjoy? What would you ask?

Turns out, you’re not alone.

In fact, a team of UCSD scientists and students have joined forces with a worldwide program called “Pint of Science” in conjunction with the Reuben Fleet Science Center to bring laymen and a number of the area’s most interesting scientific minds together, to hang out, share some bar fare, and explore ideas.

One of Spring’s hottest events is turning into a hot date with a science type.

“Two scientists walk into a bar…”

“Yeah, pretty much,” laughed Rachel Ostrand, one of the venue coordinators and a Ph.D. student in Cognitive Science at UCSD.

Think of it as an impressive minds Happy Hour.

“It was such a great event last year and even though it was a lot of work, we had a lot of fun as well, “said “Pint” organizer Erilynn Heinrichsen, a post-doc fellow in the Department of Medicine at UCSD.”

“Pint of Science” was born in London in 2013, and has since spread to nine countries and over 40 cities worldwide. Every year, every city involved can sit down with its scientists on the same three days in May and hang out with some of the best local scientific minds available. In the U.S., listeners can drink up in nine different cities, including San Diego, which joined the program in 2014.

Last year’s program was so successful, that Heinrichsen and her co-producer, Tatum Simonson, an assistant project scientist in Medicine at UCSD, wanted to do it again this year. They had no trouble finding willing scientists in one of the nation’s most active areas for innovative scientific study since San Diego is home to several internationally ranked research universities as well as the Salk Institute and a number of innovative biotech companies.

“We were really excited to grow the event from last year. We have an awesome team and were able to approach a great diversity of scientists,” said Heinrichsen.

According to Heinrichsen, they looked to fill their line up with a diverse group of speakers who were involved in innovative research and were good communicators as well.

And, to judge from the on-line sign-up site, there was no shortage of people eager to sit in on the free event, May 18-20, have a drink and ask a question…and, in the case of some guests, several.

The three evening event was spread out between bars from La Jolla to downtown San Diego with a two speaker line up at each venue every night. Attendees were greeted in a casual atmosphere and appetizers courtesy of the hosting bar. For those wanting a more solid memento, there were beer glasses etched with the event’s logo, which they could pick up along with their beer.

The topics ran from Dr. Andrew Nosal explaining why leopard sharks just want to hang out with you in La Jolla to Dr. Kimberly Cooper on why humans can walk on tippy toe and the horse is stuck with trotting, not to mention the provocatively titled, “Sex in the Lab,” by UCSD graduate student Mike Datko, asking, is it really love, or is it just chemical activity somewhere in your brain?

Looking around the bars, the crowds were just as diverse. At one talk at La Jolla Brewing Company, Genevieve, about 7 years old, sat rapt as she watched the speaker flip through pictures of charming birds.

What did she think?

“This was way interesting!”

Her parents, Jennifer Douglas and Joe Vettel, came primarily for the first speaker, Dr. Larry Goldstein, who was giving a talk about the need for research into the early stages of Alzheimer’s, because one of their parents is suffering from the disease.

“We came last night,” said Douglas, a writer and documentary maker. “We heard about it on Facebook and I love to read about science in the New York Times, so, here we are!”

Like many of the speakers, Goldstein, a researcher at UCSD, is preeminent in his field. Goldstein’s current research looks past the current trend of “fixing” Alzheimer’s or managing it, to looking for what he calls, “the Black Box of Alzheimer’s.”

The relatively young crowd, mostly under 35, listened intently as Goldstein explained how stem cells could be used to test for potential treatment to be delivered before Alzheimer’s kicks in.

Veronica Gomez and Tristan Zimmerman, both post-docs at UCSD, came to the talk at La Jolla Brewing Company partially out of curiosity, partially to support their friend Justin Kiggins, a doctoral candidate in Computational Neuroscience at UCSD, who gave a fascinating and accessible talk on what the way birds learn their species’ particular song can tell us about how humans learn language.

Kiggins, who stumbled a bit at first, warmed to his topic quickly, suggesting that scientists can tap into things beyond the experiment in front of them.

“Can you train birds to dance to Beyoncé?”

Maybe, but what Kiggins is really looking at, beyond a party trick by Polly, is how people, mainly children, acquire their first language, and, potentially, go on to acquire more than one.

“It was really very interesting to see what “Pint” was like,” said Gomez. Zimmerman, who was very curious about when the earliest changes that might lead to Alzheimer’s show up in cells, was pleasantly pleased by Goldstein’s talk.
“It was great to be able to ask questions and get another perspective, said Zimmerman.”

And their friend, Daryl Preece?

“I’m not a scientist at all.”

Nonetheless, Preece found the presentations informative and accessible to non-scientific types.

Which is precisely what “Pint of Science” and Heinrichsen are aiming for.

“Scientists are really excited about talking to the public and it’s great to explain (your research) without the jargon…and their questions sometimes help you reevaluate what you’re doing,” said Heinrichsen.

Might Tristan Zimmerman or Veronica Gomez be on the bill next year?

Laughter all around,

“You never know,” said Zimmerman.

“Yeah,” said Gomez “ that would be cool.

With “Pint of Science,” The Reuben Fleet Science Center seems to be on to something. According to Nathan Young, publicist for The Fleet, all of the recent events bringing scientists and the public casually together have been very successful.

“People seem to really enjoy it, it’s great seeing two different sets of people coming together.”

The Fleet is planning more beer and science related events over the summer, including a June 9 meet-up with Dr. Jeremy Long who will take you through a dive into the mysteries of the ocean, while June 10, at the Bella Vista Social Club and Café, “underfunded post-docs will tell you about their research,” according to Rachael Ostrand.

Who knows, you might get to share some suds with a future Nobel Prize winner!

For more information on dates and times, visit

(IMAGE: Raising a pint to science, Mike Hess Brewing, North Park )

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.

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