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The next two Science Cafe talks, courtesy of their website.

Science Café and the Ingenious Talks: free monthly learning for all

By Barbara Popel on October 30, 2018

Curious about what’s behind the science headlines? Want to know more about Iceland’s volcanoes, what the Higgs-Boson particle is, what the biomechanics of arthritic joints are, or how wireless public safety networks work?

If so, check out Carleton University’s Science Café, which is presented by the Science Faculty, and Ingenious Talks, which is presented by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design. Both are free. Both cover an astonishingly wide range of topics.

I have attended both. And I recently interviewed Pamela Wolff, a lecturer in the Chemistry and the Environmental Sciences departments and the host of the Science Café, and Adam Landry, the communications officer in the faculty of Engineering and Design.

The Science Café

Ms. Wolff told me that the Dean of Science began the Science Café in 2008. The Café was originally at The Wild Oat coffee shop in the Glebe, but it’s now in a meeting room in the Sunnyside Library in Old Ottawa South. It’s on Wednesday evenings, usually twice a month, during the fall and winter university terms. The formal lecture is fairly short; there’s plenty of time for the audience to ask questions.

When asked who was the target audience for the Science Café, Ms.Wolff said, “Science is for everybody!”

Carleton University wants the Ottawa community to understand what’s going on at the university. After all, our tax dollars support the university’s research work! When the media reports on science topics, they often pique the public’s interest to learning more.

Scientists who are doing research, and who like doing community outreach, volunteer to present at the Science Café. This year, there are more volunteers than time slots! At the Science Café, they talk about their research and answer the audience’s questions. There’s plenty of time for the audience to ask questions after the lecture, and there’s even a “scrum” (just like at university lectures!) at the end of the hour when audience members who, perhaps, are too shy to ask a question in public, can go up to ask the lecturer their questions.

When asked who was the target audience for the Science Café, Ms.Wolff said, “Science is for everybody!” You don’t need a science background to enjoy these talks. If you’re interested in a topic–whether it’s climate change, cancer or cybercrime–you’ll probably find that topic at one of the Science Café events.

Ms. Wolff’s favourite topics are ones dealing with fundamental physics. For example, a few years back there was a lecture titled, “What Is Mass and How Is It Measured?” You may think the answers are obvious, but they aren’t; these 2 questions are big conundrums in physics. Personally, one of my recent favourites was “Lessons from Earth’s Geological History for Modern Climate Change.”

The upcoming Science Café lectures sound intriguing. You can check out the fall calendar for details on the final two Science Cafés of 2018. Two that caught my eye were “Children and Online Safety” in November and “Chronic Pain: Uncovering a Path Towards Better Treatments” in the winter session. The online winter calendar will be published by early December.

The Ingenious Talks

Mr. Landry said that the Dean of Engineering and Design launched the Ingenious Talks in 2014. Back then, they were known as the “FED Talks” (“FED” stands for “Faculty of Engineering and Design”). In 2015 they were renamed the “Ingenious Talks” to match the name of the faculty’s magazine. Ingenious Talks are also at the Sunnyside Library on Wednesday evenings. They are once a month most months during the fall and winter university terms. There’s plenty of time for audience questions.

There’s so much great research going on at Carleton [that] it would be a shame not to share this.

Ingenious Talks are a public outreach vehicle for the faculty. They focus on topics that are important to the Ottawa community. As Mr. Landry said, “there’s so much great research going on at Carleton [that] it would be a shame not to share this.”

The audience typically includes members of the general public, Carleton and University of Ottawa students, Carleton faculty members, alumni and industry representatives. The speakers have found that the Ingenious Talks have opened the door to inter-disciplinary collaboration.

The faculty’s external relations team chooses topics from what’s currently making news headlines. They then approach researchers who might be interested in presenting a talk.

The most popular recent Ingenious Talks have included “Drones in Canada,’ “3D Printing in Biomedical Engineering” and “The Internet of Things.”

The Ingenious Talks calendar is updated regularly with upcoming titles. The upcoming talk I’m most excited by is the one on November 7: “The Northern Nomad Tiny Home–Pushing the Limits of Sustainability.” I don’t think they’ll wheel the Northern

Nomad into the library, but I’m sure there will be photos of it!

As an added incentive to attend, there are free coffee and snacks at the Science Café and Ingenious Talks.


The Science Café takes place at the Sunnyside Library (1049 Bank Street, at Aylmer Avenue in Old Ottawa South) twice a month on Wednesdays during fall and winter terms from 6:30-7:30pm. It is free. No registration is necessary.
Ingenious Talks takes place at the Sunnyside Library monthly on Wednesdays during fall and winter terms from 6:30-7:30pm.  It is free. No registration is necessary.