Late Night Science

Columbia University Neuroscience Outreach (CUNO) is a student-run organization that hosts a number of events and programs. One of our popular programs is Late Night Science (LNS), a monthly seminar where a Columbia researcher (such as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow) describes his/her science to a lay audience. Picture it: a few eager high school students in the first two rows, a nurse who has helped patients with seizures and is curious about the neuroscience of those ailments, a few science journalists, medical student couples on vacation from Europe, and many other characters totaling about twenty-five to thirty people. Some are newcomers but more and more of them have become regulars. Anita Burgos is always there too. As a leader in CUNO, she founded LNS a few years ago because she believes it is important for the general public to know what scientists do.

Occasionally, the presenter assumes that the audience knows something that seems very obvious to him or her. For example, one presenter discussed an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study that examined the brain activity of subjects with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and also control brains.

Anita: “Jessica, could you explain what a control is?”

Jessica: “Of course. A control is a healthy subject.”

Anita knows that the audience members might be too nervous or self-conscious to ask questions so she leads by example – especially for fundamental things like “what’s a control” because she wants the audience to understand as much as possible. Often, an audience member asks a question that sparks an interesting discussion between the public and scientists.

After the talk, the presenter gives a lab tour to the audience, giving them a first-hand look at the equipment of a Columbia University laboratory. One tour included a demonstration of electrical recordings from cultured cells in a dish! Through Late Night Science, Anita and the rest of CUNO hope to cultivate a more scientifically informed public.