Science + Beer, A Perfect Pairing, by Tyler MacMaster

Corvallis is known by Oregonians as a major brewing town, supplying Oregon with some of the best beers, ciders and kombucha the state has to offer. Arguably better than the drinks themselves are the establishments which serve them; I’m talking pubs, bars and local breweries. Oregon State University is proud of its reputation as the “science school” of Oregon, and, at some point down the line, someone had the brilliant idea of combining these two iconic Corvallis specialties into one. The brain child of this person is what we’ve come to know as OSU sponsored, “Science Pubs,” and Corvallis’ local, “Tap Talks.” The basic idea behind these talks is to have an informative and entertaining night with your friends at the local pubs and breweries around Corvallis. The speaker typically sets up in front of the pub and gives a 20-30-minute informative presentation on their specific area of expertise. This talk is then followed by a Question & Answer portion of the event, typically spanning from 20-30-minutes as well. This is where the majority of audience engagement comes into play and is normally where the most information is actually given. The audience consists of Corvallis locals and Oregon State students, ages spanning from 3-5 years of age all the way up to the senior citizens of Corvallis. These events are inclusive to all ages and strive to inform the mass public about the scientific research that Corvallis locals and professors are working on.

I attended my first Tap Talk on June 3rd, 2019. This talk was about Orca whales and trends on their global population. The talk was given by Orca expert Colleen Weiler and Jessica Rekos Fellow. These two women are a part of an organization called Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a whale and dolphin conservation group based out of Oregon, and their talk was attempting to raise awareness on how we can help Orca population conservation. What I liked most about the environment was the welcoming, and generally unscientific nature of the event. With everyone listening casually and sipping on beer with their friends, the talk seemed more like live music then a science-like talk. The speakers addressed all of the different types of Orcas, where they live, different protective measures we can take to assure their safety and longevity.

One of my favorite moments throughout the speech came from an unlikely source. A young attendee, probably around the age of five, sprinted through the bar squealing with excitement. I was confused as to what caused such an exuberant reaction and was pleasantly surprised to hear the child’s answer when her mother asked why. She exclaimed that she, “Just loves Orcas SO MUCH!” The child-friendly environment makes these events substantially more appealing to a broader population of people in Corvallis, because they’re a wonderful excuse to drink with friends and not feel the need to hire a babysitter in the process.

My girlfriend, Tara Martin, works as an event planner for Oregon State University and works specifically with the Oregon State “Science Pubs.” I have never attended one of these events but assumed that she would have valuable insight regarding what they’re like and her favorite parts. What she hinted on was that Science Pubs and Tap Talks aren’t all that different. She says that Science Pubs are in various locations, whereas Tap Talks are typically confined to the same bars and pubs. She also talked about how Oregon State Science Pub guests are (usually) directly affiliated with Oregon State. These individuals can be professors, graduate students, or essentially anybody with research that they think is worth sharing with the general population of Corvallis. Tara thinks one of the biggest benefits of these talks are their expansive reach and their ability to branch the gap between Corvallis and the research that Oregon State does. I think it has the unique ability to merge Corvallis and the university as well as educating the public and creating interest in university events besides the typical sporting events everybody attends. Tara recalls seeing many children at these events too, a testament to their family friendly goal as events.

The most recent event that Tara helped organize was about rivers, specifically the Nile and the Colombia, and how rivers worldwide are similar and connected. The event was held at the Whiteside Theater here in Corvallis and reportedly got a large audience to attend. Topics like these, ones that are locally focused as well as providing global information, tend to be the best sellers and the ones that get the most attendance. Tara said that these monthly events sell out every time and are not only good money makers for the University, but also excellent money-making opportunities for the venues themselves.

These events typically get audiences of two-hundred people, and with two hundred thirsty individuals gathered to learn about exciting university research, the bars make a massive payday selling their drinks. Along with the drinks that the pubs provide, there’s also yummy food for the guests to order. This is typically your average pub food: burgers, fries, fried meat etc. When I attended the Tap Talk, I ordered two burgers, one for my girlfriend and one for me, and a strawberry lemonade. Yes, I know it’s pathetic not ordering an alcoholic drink at a bar, but SOME of us aren’t 21 yet. My bill ended up being $35.00 dollars and that was just for my girlfriend and me. If you multiply that by two hundred all the sudden you get into the thousands of dollars made. Local venues benefit, local individuals benefit, and the presenters benefit from sharing their hard work with interested people.

The first Science Pub happened in 2009, where Jeff Clawson, a highly regarded professor within the OSU Fermentation science department, shared his knowledge on the history of beer making. Since then there have been a variety of topics given over many fields of research. A few other Science Pubs given in 2009 were Natalie Dollar’s, “The Grateful Dead and American Culture,” Erica Mckenzie’s. “The Toughest Race on Earth: The Iditarod,” and Frank Bernieri’s talk on “First Impressions.”

Since their startup in 2009, topics have expanded and changed dramatically. In 2018, Jane Ishmael, an associate professor at the Oregon State Pharmacy school, gave a talk about Marijuana as a medicine. This talk answered many questions about marijuana as a medicine, such as, “What do scientists actually know about how marijuana behaves in the body? How is it metabolized? How does it interact with cellular pathways involved in pain perception, appetite and the immune system? Is it biochemically related to other compounds produced in the body?” For a population who legalized recreational marijuana relatively recently, talks like these can be hyper informative and useful. Sources of information like Google and other search engines can be useful in uncovering basic understandings of topics but having an expert right in front of you to ask questions to is a whole another bank of information.

Like I mentioned earlier the OSU Science Pubs always feature experts from Oregon State, and a perfect example of this is Loren G. Davis, PhD. He is a Professor of Anthropology, within the OSU Department of Anthropology; as well as the Executive Director of Keystone Archaeological Research Fund. His 2018 talk was about finding the first Americans, and, being an expert of anthropology, he is arguably one of the best people to be speaking at this event. His talk highlighted, as found in the Science Pub website:

[How] archaeological evidence indicates that humans were present in the Americas by at least 14,500 years ago and most probably initially migrated from northeast Asia during the last glacial period. The initial timing and route of entry into the Americas is not clearly understood; however, efforts to discover, excavate, and interpret early archaeological evidence of the first Americans continue to reveal important information about this exciting chapter of human history. 

Talks like these, given by incredibly knowledgeable individuals, are what brings the public in by the thousands.

Science Pubs and Tap Talks alike are amazing opportunities to get out of the house and go learn in a social environment. The cool mix of fun and serious learning is part of what makes these events an absolute hit every month. These events are also a neat reason to go out and try new local restaurants and pubs. I didn’t know the Block 15 Tap Room existed, and because I decided to go watch the Tap Talk on Orcas it’s now one of my favorite local spots. I’d highly recommend giving one of these amazing events a try if you haven’t and urge you to keep your eyes peeled for advertisements 0f these talks!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s