Science on Tap Becoming a New River Valley Tradition

This photo shows Science on Tap speaker Derek Hennen and several adults and children looking a millipedes in Derek's cupped hands, jars, vials, and petri dishes.
Derek Hennen, left, shows an eager audience some millipedes at a New River Valley Science on Tap event.

With two full years of monthly presentations in its past, the New River Valley’s Science on Tap has built a community. Held on the last Thursday of each month at Rising Silo Brewery, Science on Tap brings research to the public. Please join us for trivia quizzes, good food, fascinating science, a fun crowd, and maybe even a beer!

Our first spring semester speaker was Sihui Ma, whose talk was titled “The Science of Fermented Drinks.” Ma, who defended her dissertation at the end of April, is now a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to showing her January 28 Science on Tap audience how to make fermented rice pudding–and letting us all taste it–Ma also talked about the chemistry of fermentation. During her time as a graduate student, Ma served on the Center for Communicating Science advisory board. We’ll miss her!

Brenen Wynd from geosciences was our February 25 speaker. His talk “Almost all my friends are dead: What does paleontology tell us about extinction?” provided the audience with information about past extinction events–and their relevance today. Using a string, some markers, and volunteers from the audience, Wynd helped us understand geological time. He also showed us a cast of the oldest dinosaur in the world, a triceratops horn, and some of the fossilized river shark teeth that he collects and studies.

James T. Costa from Western Carolina University was our March 25 speaker. Hosted by Virginia Tech’s chapter of Sigma Xi, Costa spoke to an audience of about 60 and shared his enthusiasm for Darwin’s “backyard experimentising.” Many of Charles Darwin’s ideas came from or were worked out through experiments he and his family did at home, including observing earthworms responding to music. Author of Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory and director of the Highlands Biological Station, Costa provided a variety of hands-on specimens for his audience to examine.

On April 25, Virginia Tech Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise graduate student Susan Chen talked about her favorite subject: food waste. “Let’s Talk Trash: Why Food Waste Matters” was a highly interactive session, with Chen taking lots of questions from the audience and posing questions to the audience as well. Chen’s research at a summer camp showed that the children at the camp were less responsible for food waste than was the kitchen staff’s overproduction of food. Chen, a Nutshell Games winner, will be serving as co-chair of the ComSciCon-VATech 2020 organizing committee.

Derek Hennen, our June 27 speaker, regaled his audience with tales of millipede hunting, identifying, and describing. “Millipedes of Virginia” allowed the Virginia Tech entomology graduate student to share his enthusiasm for the multi-legged creatures. His table full of specimens, both living and preserved, attracted a crowd, and his anatomically correct millipede scarf was admired by many. Audience members left Rising Silo with a new appreciation for the diversity of millipedes right here in the Appalachian Mountains.

Please join us at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at Rising Silo Brewery for another great Science on Tap! Information on speakers is available at the Science on Tap-New River Valley Facebook page and under “Upcoming Events” on the Center for Communicating Science website home page. If you are interested in serving as a speaker, please contact Katie Burke ( or Cassandra Hockman (

Many thanks to our winter host, the Rivermill Bar and Grill, and warm weather host, Rising Silo Brewery!


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