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Clarkson University Science Cafe Debuts at Potsdam Coffee House This Fall

The usual musicians and poets at Jack & Wezzie's Coffee House (formerly Fields Coffee House) in Potsdam will take a break for five nights this fall, as scientists and engineers from Clarkson University take center stage instead at the North Country's first "Science Cafe."

Science Cafes bring together scientists and townspeople in a relaxed, informal setting, such as coffeehouses and pubs. A guest scientist typically makes a short presentation about a topic in his or her field, and then opens up the floor to discussion. The presentations are lively and informal, aiming to maximize discourse and interaction with the audience.

"I came to the idea of starting a Science Cafe after hearing about it from a colleague, who runs one in Florence, Italy," says Daniel ben-Avraham, a Clarkson physics professor. "People in our area are very interested in the scientific and technological advances made in our local institutions and worldwide. Live interaction with a scientist in a relaxed informal atmosphere promises to be more fun and informative than reading a popular science article in a magazine or paper."

"Jack & Wezzie's Coffee House owners John Jones and Tandy Collins have graciously agreed to volunteer their place for our series," says ben-Avraham.

Each Science Cafe will take place at 7:30 p.m. on September 10 and 24, October 15 and 29, and November 12.

Heres's a rundown of the topics and speakers:

September 10: Weirdness of Reality through the Eyes of a Physicist, Daniel ben-Avraham

Our everyday life experiences are constrained to a narrow slice of reality, limited by our size, our particular place in the universe, the filtering of our own senses, even by the typical speed of our rockets, planes and cars. Science, however, paints an unimaginably vaster reality where our most basic concepts on the very nature of space and time are severely challenged, offering equally surprising views on such mundane questions as what constitutes a solid object, and why do apples fall from trees. This Science Cafe discussion will explore some of the eye opening lessons from modern physics, including relativity and quantum mechanics.

You may have heard of strange transmissible degenerative brain diseases such as kuru in New Guinea, mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) of humans, scrapie of sheep, and chronic wasting disease of elk. But did you know that all of these diseases are caused by a misfolded form of a normal protein encoded by one of our own genes? This Science Cafe discussion will trace the bizarre but fascinating story of the Nobel Prize winning discovery of prions in an attempt to separate the hype from the horror. Warning: sensitive topics such as cannibalism, downer cattle, Korean protests against U.S. beef imports, GMOs and biotechnology will be given their due.

October 15: Size Matters: Life in the St. Lawrence River, Michael Twiss

Our northern border here in the North Country is a globally significant river. Surprisingly, we know relatively little about the ecology of this section of the St. Lawrence River despite our concerns regarding invasive species, water levels and water quality issues. The St. Lawrence River will be presented from the view point of limnology (freshwater oceanography) that will set the stage for an informed discussion of ecological and social concerns regarding this impressive natural wonder.

October 29: The Rule of 1000 Determines Our Exposure to Environmental Pollutants, Andrea Ferro

November 12: Coffee, Gossip, and Math; Kathleen Fowler

It is surprising how mathematics can be used to aid in making predictions, decisions, and understanding the world around us. For example, Newton's simple law of cooling can help you calculate when your coffee will cool down enough to take a sip. Suppose that you start a rumor that we are getting a casino on Market Street. Mathematics can help predict when the entire village will hear this news. There is even a mathematical model to predict when your children will ask, "Are we there yet?" when going to Grandma's house. In this Science Cafe discussion, we will discuss the mathematical modeling process and then brainstorm a model for a topic chosen by one of you!

Find out more about Science Cafes in general at

Find out more about Clarkson's Science Cafe at

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Clarkson physics Professor Daniel ben-Avraham and Jack & Wezzie's Coffee House owners John Jones and Tandy Collins. Scientists and engineers from Clarkson University will take center stage instead at the North Country's first "Science Cafe" at the Coffee House this fall.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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