By Kanaga Arul Nambi Rajan
Recently, at the La Jolla Brewhouse, UCSD professor Dr. Pascal Gagneux described the sperm lifecycle and the glycoprotein modifications necessary for sperm survival in the female environment WHILE dressed as a sperm; head, tail, glycoprotein coat and all. Yes, you read right – a sperm. Pascal’s talk (check it out on YouTube) was just one of many given by local scientists participating in this year’s worldwide Pint of Science festival held May 23-25, 2016.
Originating in the UK, Pint of Science is an outreach organization that aims to bring science (and leading scientists) to the general public. This year’s festival was held simultaneously in breweries and pubs in 13 cities throughout the United States as well as cities abroad in 11 other countries, including Australia, South Africa, Brazil and several European nations. This year marked the third annual Pint of Science festival in San Diego.
The festival aims to create a casual environment for scientists and non-scientists alike to mingle and discuss current cutting-edge science over great food and drinks. Each night is
organized into two or three separate events held at different locations, and every event had a different scientific theme. This year’s themes covered a variety of topics, including neuroscience and human biology, astronomy, ecology and technology. Pascal’s talk was part of Wednesday night’s “Back to the Beginning: Sperm and Stem Cells” event held at the La Jolla Brewing Company. The other speaker at Wednesday’s event was Dr. Larry Goldstein, UCSD distinguished professor and Director of UC San Diego Stem Cell program. He discussed the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and his lab’s work using a “disease in a dish” model for the development of treatments.
Pint of Science attracts speakers from both academia and industry who are leaders in their fields. Despite being by the hard-hitters of science, a hallmark of these talks is that the presentations are filled with relatable anecdotes and fun demonstrations (costumes, in Pascal’s case) to make the science accessible to anyone. Based on sold out events and this being the third year of the festival, they seem to be succeeding!
The audience at Wednesday’s event was made up of 30-40 people; a mix of both the general public and scientists. All eagerly listened to both talks while sipping on drinks. With such a small group, the questions were lively and thoughtful.
If somebody donates a sample to your lab and you discover they have a mutation that increases their susceptibility to Alzheimer’s, do you tell them? What can you learn about sporadic Alzheimer’s from the hereditary disease? Why is there a high mutation rate in sperm, given its lifespan and cycle? How much of infertility is heritable?
If you missed this year’s festival, don’t fret! Pint of Science is held annually and will be back next year. In the meantime, the organization publishes monthly podcasts, similar in tone to the festival. In addition, the organization is always looking for eager volunteers to organize the next event.
Francesca Soncin, a project scientist at UCSD and one of this year’s event/venue coordinators, enthusiastically elaborated, “I was a speaker in 2014 and enjoyed the experience so much, I volunteered as fund manager in 2015 and as a venue/event coordinator this year! If you are passionate about science and beer, want to be part of a fun team and learn skills beyond the lab, join the Pint of Science San Diego team! If you are fun, organized and full of energy, WE NEED YOU!”