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Science Cafe kicks off new season

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By The Staff

The Café Scientifique New Mexico is launching its new season with an interactive talk on forensic seismology by Terry Wallace titled, “We know where you are and what you are doing.”

Wallace will show how seismic waves can be used to deduce what happened during events like the sinking of the Russian Kursk submarine in 2000, which killed all 118 sailors and officers on board, and the gas pipeline explosion in southern New Mexico in 2001 that killed 11 nearby campers. 

As principal associate director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Science, Technology and Engineering, Wallace is responsible for all basic science programs at the laboratory and coordinates the activities of the four science and engineering directorates.

His presentation takes place at

7 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor conference center at Los Alamos Research Park.

Café Scientifique provides presentations and discussions of science in the news at no charge to high school age teens.

The program is following the age-old tradition of people sitting around coffeehouses talking about science in the news. The difference is that teens conduct this program for teens, which makes it the first of its kind in the nation.

The Café is geared toward youth interested in science with few opportunities to talk to others, especially experts, about science.

Everyone is encouraged to be part of the discussion, and no questions are ever considered dumb.

Ten teens on the Los Alamos Café’s Youth Leadership Team joined youth Cafés from surrounding towns Saturday in Santa Fe to develop strategies and plans for conducting this year’s Cafés.

“The Café is important to me because it helps me better understand the world and brings science, that most people only read about, right to my fingertips,” Los Alamos youth leader Martha Swenson said. “Listening to the scientists who come in and speak about what they do has really impacted me. Scientists are usually regarded as arcane and also dehumanized to some degree. Having these people come in and tell us their life story has really inspired me in my own future career choice.”

Youth leader Shannon Krause agreed. “I like Café because it allows us as teenagers to become informed in the scientific world around us, which is huge in such a small town,” she said.

“Being a leader is fun and by helping out, I am able to keep Café around for longer, giving the younger teens the opportunity in the future to be a part of it.”

The youth leadership teams take responsibility for all aspects of the Café meetings — suggesting meeting topics, interviewing and introducing speakers, recruiting teens, serving refreshments and making everyone feel welcome.

Presentations combine hands-on learning to emphasize the theory and practice of science.

Robotics is a hot topic and the Café leaders are searching for someone to lead an engaging Café discussion or hands-on activity into the future of robotics in everyday life.

Just about any science topic is up for discussion at Café gatherings.

This year’s topics range from various techniques for spying and detecting explosives to the hands-on cyber-warfare exercise, “Capture the Flag” to how to determine the age, sex and length of burial of a human bone.

President Michelle Hall of Science Education Solutions brought the National Science Foundation funded program to New Mexico in January 2008. Cafés are now offered in Los Alamos, Española, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

“I am very excited to begin a new year of the Café Scientifique,” Hall said. “We have a wonderful group of teen leaders who are taking charge of the program and making it their own.”

Last year, more than 1,400 teens attended Cafés in the area.

The program outgrew its meeting locations in Los Alamos and Española because so many youth attended the Café.

For more information, access www.cafenm.org.