Science on Tap Brings Speakers from Campus and Elsewhere

This photo showsthe backs of a large group of seated people listening to ayoung woman with a microphone.
Virginia Tech student Amber Reaney, a member of 500 Women Scientists, spoke on “Cleaning wastewater with mushrooms” at the October Science on Tap.

Where can you kick back with a local beer and a beautiful Appalachian mountain view, while also listening to stories from engaging researchers and science communicators? New River Valley’s Science on Tap, of course!

On the fourth Thursday of every month, visitors from the New River Valley and beyond can be seen driving the twists and turns of Glade Road to gather at Rising Silo Brewery, a spot favored by Blacksburg locals, and the host of our local Science on Tap events. Next up: “Cancer: A Traveling Ecosystem,” 5:30 p.m. January 23, with Grace Davis and Stephanie Edwards Compton. Don’t miss it!

The fall semester schedule was full of amazing speakers and audience members, often resulting in a full house.

Climate journalist Sara Peach joined us as our September Science on Tap speaker, sharing her talk “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Climate Change.”

Peach explained the importance of opening a dialogue about climate change with friends and family, highlighting that it can be especially effective if you can find a way to explain how climate change might pose a risk to things they are particularly interested in.

“You have a big influence over what people close to you think,” said Peach.

Through her advice column, “Ask Sara,” Peach answers questions about how climate change affects people’s personal lives and what they can do about it. During her talk, Peach shared some of the more interesting and thought-provoking questions she has received. She also engaged the audience in a live version of “Ask Sara.”

In October, Science on Tap celebrated women in science by welcoming several members of the local Blacksburg-Radford Pod of 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization dedicated to building an inclusive, diverse, and intersectional scientific community and representing the voices of women scientists from all over the world.

From Melissa Burt using paper airplanes to demonstrate the detrimental effects of habitat fragmentation to Ashley Taylor Repisky’s use of M&M jars to explain the importance of access to education and “defying zip code destinies,” each researcher found exciting and creative ways to engage the audience and describe the essence of their research in their 5-minute flash talks. Brianna Swartwout described her work with gut microbiota and autoimmunity, Meryl Mims spoke on crowdsourcing conservation, Lauren Childs told the audience about her antimalarial research, and Amber Reaney shared information about using mushrooms to clean wastewater.

Graduate students Melissa Burt and Lauren Maynard serve as coordinators of the Blacksburg Pod of 500 Women Scientists. You can follow the pod on Twitter (@500wsBlacksburg) and join the pod online at https://500womenscientists.org/pods.

The November Science on Tap welcomed Ruoding Shi, an applied economist from Virginia Tech, to share her research on respiratory health in Appalachian coal mining counties.

Shi grew up in a coal mining province in China, which she described as very similar to the Appalachian region of Virginia. Shi’s concern with the health impacts of coal began when she experienced the devastation of respiratory illness in her family members. With her admission into a Virginia Tech graduate program in 2014, Shi began her investigation of the health impacts the coal industry has on communities.

“The primary result of my research showed that people living in coal mining counties have a significantly higher likelihood of dying from lung disease–and even higher in the male and working populations,” said Shi.

Shi found that healthcare access is a significant factor in reducing the health impacts of living in a coal county. Both the cost of health insurance and the number of local hospitals play a role.

Shi concluded her talk with a call to action, asking policy and decision makers to consider the health impacts of coal mining in their communities.

You can find event announcements on the Science on Tap Facebook page and under “Upcoming Events” on the Center for Communicating Science website. We hope to see you there!

By Lauren Holt, Center for Communicating Science student intern

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