Astronaut Rick Linnehan participates in Expedition 16/STS-123 EVA 1's first scheduled session of extravehicular activity as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station.
Astronaut Rick Linnehan participates in Expedition 16/STS-123 EVA 1's first scheduled session of extravehicular activity as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. Credit: Courtesy / NASA

taste of science, a national nonprofit that hosts science-focused festivals in more than a dozen cities in the U.S., is bringing a series of informal discussions to San Antonio. The first local installment, entitled “Moons, Storms, and Toys in Space,” will try to increase public understanding of sciences related to space exploration Tuesday, Sept. 12,  7 p.m. at The Friendly Spot Ice House.

“The overall goal of the series is to bring science to the people,” said organizer Cherise Rohr-Allegrini in a phone interview Tuesday. “While many people are interested in science, many view it as something far-off and irrelevant to their lives. In reality, science impacts every single thing we do. [The discussions are] a challenge for people to interact with scientists on an everyday basis and ask their questions.”

Curious individuals will be encouraged to provide their own scientific inquiries for the experts over drinks.

Three local scientists will host the discussion. Niescja Turner, Trinity University professor of Physics with a focus on the Sun-Earth system, will talk about the effects of solar winds and the occurrence of magnetics storms.

Kurt Retherford, staff scientist and Planetary Sciences section manager at the Southwest Research Institute with an emphasis in UV optics, will talk about Europa, a moon of Jupiter discovered to have water, and whether it might be able to support life.

Frederic Allegrini, principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in the field of Space Physics and adjunct professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio graduate Space Physics program, will talk about designing instruments complex enough to measure phenomenon in space, yet compact enough for travel on rockets.

“We don’t want a lecture series,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “Rather than a lecture, each speaker will talk maybe five to 10 minutes about their work, and then open up for questions.

“The average person has sort of a 7th to 8th grade knowledge of science,” she said, noting that she doesn’t expect attendees to be able to fully explain rocket science after one discussion. “We want people to walk away with a greater appreciation for what goes into space research. That way, they might have an understanding of why a project would cost $10 million and what value we as a society get out of this research.”

Rohr-Allegrini calls taste of science a translator between scientific study and the average person. The organization hosts an annual festival in cities across the nation, which it describes as a science fair for adults. The audience is typically composed of 49% nonscientists. taste of science is a project run by Scientists, Inc, a nonprofit that tries to expand interest in the sciences beyond the traditional bounds of the scientific community.

“Discussion will come from a science perspective, but will explain how that impacts us in our day to day lives,” she added.

Topics in the works for future discussions include climate science, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, the Juno Mission to Jupiter, the ecological dynamics of San Antonio, and the opioid epidemic. They are open to community feedback about which topics to cover.

“What we’re hoping to develop over time is a community … to become a forum where people can ask their questions and become more informed about these issues,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “The sessions won’t be political in nature, but it does impact how we choose representatives. It may help us change the way we live and make us more conscientious.

“And it’s fun,” she added. “People think of science as this big, scary thing only for super smart people, but it’s quite the opposite. Scientists are just ‘average Joes’ who really enjoy what they do. The hope is also to help scientists be perceived as regular people. Maybe people will listen to these talks and say, ‘I could be a scientist too.’”

Tom Bugg is a San Antonio native and student of English at Colorado College.