Science! In a pub! What’s not to like? Or so seemed to be the vibe of last night’s Science in the Pub event held at the Grand Hotel in Newcastle. But it soon became obvious that the event was more than just an excuse to have a beer.
Taken out of the lab and away from the lecture hall, University researchers, Professor Pablo Moscato, Professor Rodney Scott and Laureate Professor John Aitken (2012 NSW Scientist of the Year), spoke to a standing-room-only group of over 100 people drawn from the wider community.
The event was presented by ABC Newcastle, The University of Newcastle and the Australian Government, and was the first of nine Science in the Pub sessions to take place in regional centres around Australia, with the next to kick off in Hobart next month.
The panel presented brief outlines of their research in the biotechnology space, after giving entertaining accounts of their journeys to science. Who knew that John Aitken had a failed real estate career or that Pablo Moscato almost became a film director?
Over the course of the night complex issues around ethics, genetics and fertility and reproduction took centre stage. Searching and provocative questions were fired at the researchers and it was obvious from the way they took to responding that these are passionate scientists who believe in the wider implications for humanity of the work they do.
From the moment that Professor Moscato asked the audience, “If you had all of your genetic information at your fingertips, would you put it on Facebook?” to when an articulate student said: “If a person knew they had a genetic predisposition to a disease, would they be legally obliged to tell their partner? we knew we were in deep and fascinating waters. And, as is often the way with science, the questions threw up even more questions as the group delved into the intersection between science, ethics and government policy and regulation.
Event organiser, Frankie Lee, was extremely impressed with the turn out and audience engagement.
“We should apologise to the many people who didn’t get a seat or couldn’t fit in, but thanks to the community for coming out in droves to meet some of your local researchers,” said Frankie.
“The three scientists really enjoyed the chance to hear what people think. Most of the survey forms I read and the people I spoke to said we need more of these events.” she added.
Perhaps Professor Rodney Scott summed up the whole point of gatherings such as this when he said, ‘We’re part of you. We aren’t outside the general community. We need to know what you think and if our work is worth it.”