Second Tuesday Science Café Kicks Off

by Celina De León
Amy Cheng Vollmer in lab.
Professor Amy Cheng Volmer in her lab at the Martin Biological Laboratory. At right, her complete talk.

Last month, more than 80 faculty and staff gathered over lunch in the Scheuer Room of Kohlberg Hall for the debut of Second Tuesday Science Café. Led by Amy Cheng Vollmer, professor of biology and organizer of the monthly science lecture series, the first talk provided a behind-the-scenes look at the human immune system in action.

"I finally have a clear understanding of the differences between bacteria and viruses," says Tania Johnson, associate director of corporate, foundation, and government relations. "I am very excited about the Second Tuesday Science Café series. Dr. Vollmer did a superb job of communicating in an accessible and engaging manner how microbiology and the decisions we make in our daily lives impact our health and well-being."

Intended for individuals with no formal science background, Second Tuesday Science Café is a new monthly lunchtime lecture series that will be provided by members of the College's science faculty. Vollmer's motivation for organizing the series grew from her passion for advancing adult science literacy and her participation in Swarthmore's Life Long Learning program. She has hosted five non-biology faculty members in her lab since 2006; Leslie Hempling and Melissa Mandos of the Dean's Office spent this past summer isolating bacteria with Vollmer.

"I look forward to using Second Tuesday Science Café as a way to increase science literacy and to make science more accessible to Swarthmore faculty and staff," says Vollmer. "Science and technology impact our lives in so many ways. Our aim is to demystify the concepts and processes, and to create a comfortable environment for q&a, discussion, and the exchange of ideas."

A member of the Swarthmore faculty since 1989, Vollmer is an authority on microbiology and biotechnology, and president of the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology. She took several questions from the audience before closing her talk with one lasting impression. "Solving the complex problems of our time involves multidisciplinary knowledge," said Vollmer. "That's why a liberal arts education is so important."

The Second Tuesday Science Café is made possible with funding and administrative support from the College's new Institute for the Liberal Arts, which strives to foster and facilitate conversations and innovations to help advance and evolve liberal arts education.

The following Second Tuesday Science Café lectures will be hosted through the end of the year. Stay tuned for the 2013 line-up.

Oct. 9: "Pennsylvania's K-12 'High Stakes' Testing System"
Presented by Lynne Steuerle Schofield '99, assistant professor of statistics

Nov. 13: "Capturing the Sun in the lab: prospects for fusion energy"     
Presented by Michael Brown, professor of physics

Dec. 11: "Hot plants: building tools to understand how plants sense high temperatures"
Presented by Nick Kaplinsky, associate professor of biology

Second Tuesday Science Café occurs the second Tuesday of each month, from 12-1 p.m., in the Scheuer Room in Kohlberg Hall. Talks are led by members of the science faculty. They are 35 minutes in length and are followed by a question and answer period. A light lunch is also provided.