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Clarkson University Science Cafe Returns to Downtown Potsdam Feb. 4

[A photograph for media use is available at]

Scientists and engineers will again take the stage starting February 4 at Jack & Wezzie’s Coffee House (formerly Fields Coffee House) in Potsdam for the "Science Cafe."

This semester, Clarkson University faculty will be joined by professors from SUNY Potsdam and a faculty member from a local school district.

Science Cafes bring together engineers, scientists and townspeople in a relaxed, informal setting, such as coffeehouses and pubs. The speaker makes a short presentation about a topic in his or her field, and then opens up the floor to discussion.Science Cafe

"I was very excited by the response we had to our inaugural Science Cafe this fall," says Clarkson Physics Professor Daniel ben-Avraham, the series’ founder. "Not only was our line-up of guest speakers excellent, but we also had a large number of insightful questions and comments from the audience. It was just the sort of give-and-take I had envisioned."

"This spring we’ve expanded our guest lecturer list, so our Clarkson faculty will be joined by speakers from SUNY Potsdam and Colton-Pierrepont School. It looks like we’re going to have some really interesting discussions."

Jack & Wezzie’s Coffee House owners John Jones and Tandy Collins have again volunteered to host the series.

Each Science Cafe will take place at 7:30 p.m. on February 4 and 25, March 11 and 25, and April 15.

Here’s a rundown of the topics and speakers:

February 4: Evolution, Darwin and Humanity in the 21st Century: Clarkson University Biology Professor James Schulte, SUNY Potsdam Geology Professor Lisa Amati, SUNY Potsdam Archeology Professor Bethany Usher, and Colton School District AP Biology teacher Mark Lee

February 12 marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, co-founder of evolutionary theory by natural selection. Since the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species, the implications of evolution for understanding the natural world and our place in it have generated contentious debate and considerable misconceptions about the theory. This Science Cafe provides a forum to both introduce Darwin’s theory and deconstruct the fallacies of Darwinism that have arisen over the last 150 years. The panel includes an anthropologist, a paleontologist, an evolutionary biologist and a secondary school biology educator.

February 25: Flocks and Swarms, Birds and Bugs: SUNY Potsdam Professor of Biology Bill Romey

The undulation of a flock of starlings seems to be tightly choreographed, or is it? Recent research shows that complex self-organization of a group can arise from the simple rules of individuals who are unaware of the rest of the group. These collective decisions can lead animals to the best ways to find food and avoid predators. Join us for a discussion of the evidence that shows how individual movement rules can lead to coordinated group movements in birds, bugs and fish, and that we can benefit from understanding these phenomena.

March 11: Arrows of Time: Clarkson Professor of Physics Larry Schulman

Physical law, with a probably irrelevant exception, is time-symmetric. Why isn’t life? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that your coffee cools because the universe is expanding. (Although, as Mrs. Singer says in Annie Hall, "You’re here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!") Join us in a dazzling excursion into the very underpinnings of science as Professor Schulman discusses one of its greatest mysteries: time.

March 25: Assessing Environmental Risk in Daily Life: Clarkson Environmental Health Science Professor Michelle Crimi

What significant risks do you take every day without even realizing? Which of these risks are acceptable and why? How do the decisions of others (e.g., governments, businesses) impact your every day level of risk? Every action we take and decision we make involves some degree of risk, or probability that something will go wrong. Our perceptions of risk, however, do not always match reality. Join us for an interactive discussion about risk taking, with a focus on our exposure to environmental contaminants in air, water and soil. Gain insights into governmental approaches for minimizing risks associated with environmental contaminants, as well as personal approaches for reducing such risks.

April 15: Networks -- The Science of our Connected World: Clarkson Mathematics Professor Takashi Nishikawa

Have you ever been surprised by how small our world is? The idea that any two persons in the world may be connected by "six degrees of separation" has inspired many scientists who try to model networks of connected things commonly found in our world - from food webs, to power grids, to Facebook. The science of networks helps us understand not only how we are connected in the network of people in this society, but also how the network of biochemical reactions coordinate their activity to make life possible and how virus spread over the network of computers in the Internet. Join us in this Science Cafe discussion, where we will trace the history of this emerging science and explore our world from a "network" viewpoint.

Find out more about Science Cafes in general at

Find out more about Clarkson’s Science Cafe at

E-mail Daniel ben-Avraham at with any comments, questions or suggestions for future Science Cafe topics.

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 presents the inaugural Science Cafe in September 2008. Scientists and engineers will again take the stage starting February 4 at Jack & Wezzie’s Coffee House in Potsdam.

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

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