Skip to content

Cafe Scientifique

Previous Topics

Cafe Scientifique is an engaging and informational discussion about an interesting and relevant topic in today's society. Please take a moment to review the topics we have discussed in the past. If you've found an interest in any one of them, please do not hesitate to contact Alan O'Keefe at Lansing Community College to discuss and learn more!

The Ethics of Psychiatric Neurosurgery

Psychiatric neurosurgery has resurfaced over the past two decades for the treatment of severe mental health disorders, with improved precision and safety over older interventions alongside the development of novel ones. Little is known, however, about current public opinions, expectations, hopes, and concerns over this evolution in neurotechnology, particularly given the controversial history of psychosurgery. This presentation by Dr. Laura Cabrera will highlight the role of neuroethics in examining and addressing public perceptions and values around psychiatric neurosurgery.

The Biology of Mental Illness: Genes, Brains, and Behavior

This talk by Dr. Mark Reimers will survey some of our attempts to understand the causes of mental illness, and summarize the current state-of-art. Freud told us that mental illness came from from early childhood trauma or deprivation. After the discovery of effective anti-depressant drugs, and after the revolution in genetics in the 1980's the pendulum of opinion swung to the idea that the underlying causes were 'biochemical imbalances' and 'bad genes'. However several decades of investigation have turned up only a few rare bad genes that contribute to mental illness in a few cases. Now researchers are trying to synthesize these older perspectives and asking again about the effects of early experience, and in particular how different genes might make people more or less reactive and how experience might affect how genes are expressed.

A Crash Course in Auditory Neuroscience

The ability to hear sounds and to communicate through speech or vocalizations is hugely important for humans and animals alike. In animals, hearing is used for predator evasion or hunting, and through conspecific vocalizations also for litter care, finding a mate or defending a territory. For humans, being able to hear and understand speech is probably the most important task of the auditory system, and the inability to understand speech after hearing loss is a main contributor to a decrease in quality of life. Over one third of persons over 65 years are affected by disabling hearing loss, and nearly 1 billion young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices through personal listening devices. In my talk, Dr. David Goyer will review the auditory system and how it is able to perceive sounds, and spend some time on his own work showing how the auditory system is able to extract cues that are important for sound source localization and speech understanding.

Environmental Stewardship and Place-Based Learning

When students understand the purpose of their actions; are allowed to make a difference by being directly involved; have their results validated and used by professionals: excitement and a life long learning experience are the end result. Place Based Education allows this to happen. K-12 students can become stewards of the environment by learning about nature in their local community context, the surrounding where it occurs. We invite you to join us with Michael Fields of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative to learn how place-based education is benefiting school-community partners across northeast Michigan, where youth are engaged in a variety of environmental stewardship projects to make a positive difference in their local communities and become stewards of Michigan's Waterways.

Big Data and Big Brother

Big data is quickly changing our lives, both for good and ill. Precision medicine draws on analysis of millions of patients to identify those most similar to you, to guide your treatment. Amazon tries to identify books we may like based on comparing our history with those of millions of others, often leading us to unexpected pleasures. Nevertheless Amazon, Facebook and Google are watching our consumer choices like hawks, trying to sell us more. Individually tailored political messages may have played a significant role in the recent US election.

Dr. Mark Reimers will describe briefly some of the methodology behind big data analytics and present some of the major uses and abuses of big data in our daily lives now. Finally we will look ahead ten years, and fifty years, to the world we (or our grand-children) might live in.

The Battle of the Titans: Mathematics vs Truth

For centuries, mathematics was considered the prime example and even the foundation of truth. But in the nineteenth century cracks were discovered in the foundation. These cracks have led to alternative facts and questions about whether anything can be known for sure. Join us with Dr. Tim Pennings, chair of the department of Mathematics at Davenport University, for this fast-paced, interactive overview of 2500 years from Euclid to Einstein shows how discoveries in mathematics and physics have changed the way we think about truth - including religious and moral truth.

Invasive Plant Species in Your Michigan Backyard

An invasive species is one that is not native and whose introduction causes harm, or is likely to cause harm to the local economy, environment, or human health. In this presentation of by Erin Pavloski, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator at the Ingham Conservation District in Mason, learn about your local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA), some invasive species to watch for in your backyard, and how you can help manage invasive species in Michigan.

Understanding and Improving the Health of our Local Land & Water Resources

How do Conservation Districts serve the environmental needs of their community and how can you be involved? Join Michelle Beloskur, Executive Director of the Ingham Conservation District, for an overview of the environmental stewardship work of the Ingham Conservation District with special focus on the importance of landscaping with native species as well as new and ongoing initiatives to better understand our local rivers and promote their health.

Forestry and You

Join us with Daniel Hutchison of Davey Resource Group for a discussion of modern forestry. During this talk, we will discuss a few different facets of forestry; from stereotypical timber production, to wildlife habitat management, utility forestry, and more! Come and learn and discuss the different facets of forestry and their impacts on your life.

The Minds of Animals

Can animals think or feel? Can they remember specific events? Can they imagine or anticipate what they might encounter in the future? During the twentieth century most scientists subscribed to the view that animals were no more subtle than wind-up toys. In recent decades close behavioral observation, and recordings from animal brains have shown us some of the surprising capacities of even everyday animals. Scientists now think they are just beginning to understand some of the diverse intelligences among us. Dr. Mark Reimers will guide a whirlwind tour of recent discoveries about the minds of animals: from dogs to dolphins and from our cousins the apes to the alien intelligence of octopods.

Mistaken and Misleading Maps

Join the staff of the MSU Map Library for a talk on map mistakes and how maps can trick us, both in the digital and historical eras. We often take maps for granted, but as the saying goes "the map is not the territory" and no map is made without an agenda or as a perfect replica of reality. Maps may be deliberately misleading or merely erroneous, and we will discuss both of these types of problems in modern and historic sources (such as errors in geocoding and geolocation in modern contexts and the distortion of early cartography). We will also show and discuss some maps that were specifically made to mislead.

From Science to Propaganda: the Insidious Bond Between Fossil Fuel Money and Our Energy Economy

Join us with Cody Purchase and Nicholas Jansen of the Sunrise Movement for a discussion regarding how scientific data forms to a consensus and how that influences policy makers. In this dialogue, we will discuss the reasons behind action and inaction regarding the climate crisis along with what tobacco and fossil fuel industry campaigns tell us about how propagandists utilize scientific effort to create misleading messaging. To what extent is this being done now, and what can be done to prevent the corrupting influence of money on policy?

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Crocodiles, but Were Afraid to Ask

Join us with Dr. Goran Blomburg as we discuss the world of crocodiles! This presentation, based upon Dr. Blomburg's work with the Peace Corps in Botswanna to gauge effects of a crocodile hunting concession, will introduce the audience to the world's crocodilians, several reasons for studying crocodiles, interesting anatomical features, danger to humans, feeding habits, nesting and young, habitat, behavior, along with the presenter's past and possible future research. The talk will conclude with a discussion of principles relevant to crocodile conservation.


Cyberbullying is a problem impacting many children today, and can have dire consequences. This talk will focus on what we currently know about cyberbullying and its effects on those it impacts. The talk will focus on what exactly is meant by the term "cyberbullying" and how it differs from traditional bullying, what might put youth at risk for cyberbullying victimization and perpetration, and what the consequences of cyberbullying involvement are for youth. We'll also discuss what might protect children from becoming involved in cyberbullying, both as victims and perpetrators of bullying, and what preventative and intervention strategies seem promising in reducing this behavior. 

Impacts! The Science of Cratering

Impact cratering is the prominent geological process of solid-body planets and moons. So what the heck happens during the cratering process? For April's Cafe Scientifique, Peter Malinski will be giving a talk about impact cratering across the solar system and will break down the nitty-gritty of impact geology. He will describe the impacting process across the solar system and identify prominent structures seen in many NASA and ESA missions. Resources will be provided to explore these craters, and information will be given to see these wonderful structures for yourself!

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

This month we are very pleased to welcome Kate Moore, author of the highly acclaimed, NYT bestselling book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women, the incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger. The Radium Girls earned starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, telling the story of the women who worked in radium-dial factories during World War I, eventually becoming embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.

What is Memory?

Memory is indispensable for us to function in daily life, and is at the core of our identity as persons. Yet it remains a mystery. This talk by Dr. Mark Reimers will delve into the scientific study of how memory works, including making memories, recalling, forgetting, absent-mindedness, and false memory.

Natural Hazards in the Past vs. Natural Hazards in the Present: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Winter Storms, and Earthquakes

Join Lansing Community College geography professor Will Gustin on the impacts of significant Natural Hazard Events, both in the past and the present, and our vulnerabilities as a society to them. This will be discussed in reference to both our preparedness for them, as well as our responsibility for a society. This will be discussed, especially with relation to atmospheric events and the impact of global warming and El Nino on these different phenomena, and what the future may hold. The future ramifications will be in terms of the power of these phenomena, as well as society's expectations and responses to them.

Butyric acid production from lignocellulosic biomass

Butyric acid is globally marketed with uses ranging from flavor additive and cattle feed enhancer to chemical feedstock. Production methods of butyric acid that utilize bacteria fermentation yield interesting possibilities as a potential source of fermentation substrate is lignocellulosic biomass, a renewable resource. Additionally, the downstream processing of butyric acid could provide an environmentally friendly way of generating useful fuels and chemicals in the future. How can buytic acid production be optimized? What are some of the processes lignocellulosic biomass must undergo to be a useful substrate? Join us with Dr. Adam Jaros as we explore butyric acid fermentation.

Genealogy in the Internet Age: It's more than just ancestors

We have all seen the ads for, for 23 and Me, and others that want to help us trace our ancestry both within the United States and overseas. Tracing your ancestors can be an enjoyable and sometimes surprising experience, but today you can do much more; actually beginning to reassemble details of your ancestor's lives and family history using internet and other resources outside of the traditional genealogy world. Tom Deits will talk about some of these resources illustrated by some of his own family history discoveries, covering WWII in the Pacific, the early history of photography, whaling, the Civil War, the Mutiny on the Bounty and more.

The Sun: our neighborhood nuclear reactor.

The Sun is the ultimate source of all our energy. It is the perfect thermonuclear reactor. It can also be very violent -- disrupting our communications and electric supply here on Earth and harming astronauts in space. How violent is the Sun? What makes it violent? What keeps the Sun stable over millennia? How does the Sun produce its heat? How does that heat get to us? Join us with Dr. Bob Stein as we will explore the Sun, our neighborhood, safe nuclear reactor.

Artificial Life, Open-Ended Evolution, and the Origins of Biological Complexity

A grand challenge in evolutionary biology is to understand how populations evolve from simple, single-celled organisms to the complex plants and animals we see in the world today. Darwin himself recognized the difficulty of explaining the origins of traits of "extreme perfection and complication" such as the vertebrate eye, but provided profound insights into the process. Dr. Charles Ofria will discuss research where we study populations of digital organisms as they evolve new, complex traits and behaviors in computational environments. He will illustrate processes wherein evolution accumulates genetic information to produce simple traits that are ultimately used as building blocks for higher levels of biological complexity. In the natural world, of course, many other factors are at play promoting diversity and complexity. We will also discuss how ecological interactions promote more rapid complexity growth (including co-evolution and competition for multiple limited resources), and explain the steps that we are taking in an attempt to build artificial life systems that are as rich and open-ended as nature.

What is consciousness?

What scientific evidence do we have about consciousness? Is there a signature of consciousness in brain activity? Do some animals have a kind of consciousness? We will discuss results from studies of conscious perception, effortful thinking, and day-dreaming. In these studies scientists measure brain activity under conditions which are as similar as possible, except for awareness or other distinctively conscious activity. While these studies don't give final answers to the deep questions, they do build on empirical evidence to point us in useful directions.

Shaken Baby Syndrome: Facts and Fiction

Dr. Robert M. Reece, retired clinical professor of Pediatrics at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, will discuss this form of abusive head trauma. The talk will address the kinds of injuries these infants sustain, how they occur, the effect of these injuries on the victims, the outcomes of the injuries, and some proposals about how these injuries might be prevented. After the presentation of the scientific aspects, Dr. Reece will discuss his novel "To Tell The Truth", a fictional case about Luke Talbot, a seven-month-old infant who sustained a brain injury while in the care of an 18-year-old babysitter. The novel takes the reader from the infant's injury through the trial of the babysitter with medical experts for the defense offering their version of the truth.

The Honey Bee: Past, Present, and Future

The world of the U.S. honey bee has been impacted by the introduction of five diseases and parasites from overseas in the last 45 years. Along with these pests there has been an increase in pesticide use, and long range migratory pollination services. In essence these factors have lead to, or contributed to, the condition know as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). However the wide-ranging need for pollination services from apple to almonds to zucchini makes the loss of honey bee colonies all the more troubling. Join us with Dr. Roger Hoopingarner as we discuss the wide-ranging implications of the fate of the honey bee.

Fracture: A discussion on fracking in America

Join Maryann Lesert, a playwright, novelist, journalist, and contributing author to the anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories about Fracking in America. The book features well-known environmental writers responding to fracking and its threats to water, community, and place, and examines our relationship with Earth and the place of art in changing culture. She will take us on a quick research journey that includes the science of fracking as well as the stories of what it's like to live with fracking.

Disguising Messages: A Look at Cryptology Over the Centuries

Arnie Hammel, Retired Professor of Mathematics from CMU will be joining us to discuss cryptology. Cryptology has been used to encrypt messages for over 2000 years. In this power point presentation several of the classic methods of encryption will be given, as well as actual examples of their use by militaries, governments, security bureaus, and spies. These were all secret key, used the alphabets A-Z or 0-1, and involved transpositions and substitutions. In the 1970's businesses and the public also needed secrecy for their passwords, credit cards, email, etc. The concept of public key was born. Public key methods are more mathematical than in the past,  often using One-way Functions and Number Theory. Examples will be given. What is protecting us today is the phenomenal work of mathematicians, computer scientists, programmers, algorithm creators, and engineers.

The Maker Movement

The Maker Movement is one of the fastest growing trends in the world today. New tools enable children, inexperienced adults, experts, and entrepreneurs to quickly turn ideas into real objects for fun, for education, or for profit. We will talk about some of these tools, about the history and future of the Maker Movement, and how you can get involved locally even if you have never made anything before. Join Thomas Deits as we discuss this exciting movement!

Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect: Scientific Thought, the Debate, Public Attitudes and Its Evolution, and Policy

Join Lansing Community College geography professor Will Gustin on the evolution of scientific thought on global warming and cooling since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-19th century, how views on both sides of the issue has evolved, where we are now, and what it might mean in the future, both in terms of the degree of climate change, as well as our physical and cultural adaptation to it, including impacts on our economy and our way of life through the rest of this century.

Darwin: Books, Beetles, and Blasphemy

Join Washtenaw Community College biology professor David A. Wooten for an insightful and unique lecture on the life and publications of Charles Darwin. This talk will include the display of rare, antique books published by Darwin, as well as other historical texts that influenced Darwin in the formation of his theory of evolution.  This is a rare opportunity to see the original works and hear the story of an English naturalist that sailed around the world and forever altered our understanding of the natural world. Participants will have an opportunity to view the antique collection along with other historical Darwinian antiques. For more information go to

Understanding the Mysteries of the Brain

Recently President Obama announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, intended to be a 'moonshot' project to understand how the brain makes and shapes the mind. How do we try to measure brain activity? How does that help us understand how our minds work? What are the new technologies that the BRAIN initiative will try to advance? How likely is it that we really can understand our own brains' workings? Dr. Mark Reimers, Professor of Neuroscience at MSU will be our presenter.

Nuclear Astrophysics: Past, Present, and Into the Next Generation

Just as four protons come together in stars to form helium, so did four enterprising scientists come together in a windowless basement room in the Caltech Kellogg Radiation Laboratory to produce the seminal paper in a field that would come to be known as nuclear astrophysics. It has been almost 60 years since Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle published the 'B2FH paper' that outlined the stellar origins of the elements and the field of nuclear astrophysics is alive and well (and prospering in East Lansing!). But what exactly is 'nuclear astrophysics' in the first place? This talk will discuss the intersection of nuclear physics and astrophysics, and why we can claim that we are made of star stuff. Our presenter will be Wei Jia Ong, an MSU nuclear astrophysicist.

Science in the Dark Ages

Newton famously said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, but how many could you name? What debt might modern astronomy and chemistry owe to astrology and alchemy? Just what science was going on in Europe during the Middle Ages anyway? Join us for a casual stroll through some oft- neglected scientific history. LCC Physics Professor Dr. David Shane will be our presenter.

Intersex as a Human Rights Issue

The intersex patient rights movement is now about 20 years old, yet is still largely fighting for what it did at the start: the right not to have your sex changed without your consent; the right to be told the truth about your medical history; and the right to be treated as an equal member of the human family without having to first pass through an operating theater. We'll discuss why intersex-being born with a body that doesn't fit standard categories of male and female-is now being conceived internationally as a human rights issue, and why the American medical establishment is resisting that conception. Alice Dreger, author of Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, will be the presenter. She has spent 20 years working in intersex patient rights.

Learn to Love your Microbes

New techniques for sampling and assessing genetic diversity of microbes enable us to determine the taxonomic and functional diversity of the human microbial symbionts for the first time. Information from the Human Microbiome Project and other similar studies can be used to understand the relationship between our symbiotic microbial communities and how they affect, and are affected by, health and disease in humans. We will discuss how influences on our microbiome such as nutrition, probiotics, the immune system and antibiotics affect our health and well-being. LCC Biology Professor Kenneth Davenport will be our presenter.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Part II)

Lacks Family presentation and moderated discussion. As part of the "One Book #OneLCC" project, please join us as we discuss Rebecca Skloot's bestseller that delves into the legal, ethical, and scientific aspects of medical research and scientific process. We will explore how science and society has changed (and stayed the same), and view a few related videos.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Part I)

As part of the "One Book #OneLCC" project, please join us as we discuss Rebecca Skloot's bestseller that delves into the legal, ethical, and scientific aspects of medical research and scientific process. We will explore how science and society has changed (and stayed the same), and view a few related videos.

Evolution of the Human Mind and Brain

Our human mind and consciousness has evolved from an ape mind over the past six million years. How have our brains and genes changed to bring this about? We are very similar to apes in some ways, in which scientists previously thought humans were unique, but quite different in other ways, such as our capacity for joint attention, which scientists had not realized were so important. This talk will present genetic, anatomical, and behavioral evidence bearing on the changes to the brain that supported the emergence of the human mind and its capacity for culture, and describe some of the changes in our DNA that have made all this possible. Dr. Mark Reimers, Professor of Neuroscience at MSU was our presenter.

Quarks and Leptons

95% of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy, but neither is directly observable, and their nature is unknown. The remaining 5% is "ordinary" matter - namely, everything we can see, from atoms to galaxies. Learn how physicists discovered tiny particles, called quarks and leptons, that are the fundamental constituents of both ordinary matter and exotic anti-matter. The first clue came from cosmic rays. Dr. Laurence Tarini, LCC Physics Professor, will be our presenter.


Ebola, once known only to virologists as an obscure, yet deadly virus in Africa, has emerged as a global public health threat. Although the first occurrence was documented 38 years ago, interest in a cure, containment, or vaccine development was minimal... until now. Using the current Ebola virus outbreak we will explore the process of scientific progress within the context of societal constraints as well as the biology of Ebola virus and what makes it deadly. LCC Biology Professor Mindy Wilson was our presenter.

An Exercise in Reason; Responding to Anti-Evolutionists Claims

This presentation will survey the most common "challenges" to evolutionary theory that are presented by those that do not accept evolution as valid science. Each claim will be addressed using either scientific evidence or logical, philosophical or theological refutations. This presentation is of benefit to teachers, students, parents and deductive thinkers. We are fortunate to again have as our presenter Dr. Gregory Forbes, Professor of Biological Sciences at Grand Rapids Community College.

How do you detox in a toxic world?

Detoxing is much more than doing a fad diet or visiting a sauna. Our bodies detox 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The important things to know are how do we facilitate  as well as hamper your body's detoxification pathways. Natural medicine expert Dr. Nicholas Morgan shares his top 5 ways to optimize your body's innate detoxification pathways.

Complementary & Alternative Medicines: Fact, Fallacy or Fiction?

An examination of whether complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) such as acupuncture, chiropractic and natural/herbal supplements have any scientific merit in the treatment of disease.  The reasons for the apparent increase in the acceptance of such CAMs will also be examined.  Strategies for determining the scientific validity of miracle cures and treatments will also be explored.  Our presenter will be Dr. Gregory Forbes, Professor of Biological Sciences at Grand Rapids Community College.  (See <> for more information about our presenter.)

Nanotopicname: How is it changing our world?

In the past decade or two, scientists and engineers have been exploring the world at a miniature level-designing, creating, and employing matter at a scale a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair.  What changes about the way matter interacts with its surroundings, at that scale?  How is nanotopicname used in a practical sense?  Should we be worried - or should we be excited - or both?  Our presenter will be Dr. Rebecca Anthony, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University.  

Dementia Prevention - Why should you care and what to do about it.

One in three seniors die with dementia or Alzheimer's.  Dean Reinke, our presenter, is a mainframe programmer, with no medical training.  He learned about the brain, because 7 years ago he had a massive stroke.  Strokies have a 33% chance of getting dementia/Alzheimers and he was determined that that was not going to happen to him.  He writes the Deans' Stroke Musings blog, which is the most popular stroke blog on the net.  Everything he will talk about is documented on the blog, with links to the relevant research articles.  He has written 107 posts on Alzheimers and 65 on dementia.

Cost Effectiveness and Numerous Environmental Benefits in Thorium-Fueled Nuclear Energy

Energy sources our country currently depends on include wind, solar, hydro, fossil-fuel power plants, and nuclear power plants.  Our presenter, Dr. Timothy Maloney, advocates employing a revolutionize means of energy generation in nuclear power plants that would use the chemical element Thorium instead of Uranium, which is currently used in nuclear reactors.

Dr. Maloney is a retired professor of Electronics topicname, Monroe County Community College.  He has a BS in Engineering, an MS in Electrical Engineering, and a PhD in Educational Psychology.  He served as Chair of a panel discussion on "Thorium-Fueled Nuclear Energy" at the 2012 Left Forum Conference as well as a panel discussion on "Oil, Wind, Water, Solar, or Liquid-Fuel Thorium?  What's our best hope?" at the 2013 Left Forum Conference.

What is Your Food Telling your Genes?

The presenter was Naturopathic Physician Dr. Nicholas Morgan.

The Maker Revolution

Scientific American, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist have all reported in the past year that the Maker revolution is poised for growth and economic impact today comparable to the personal computer revolution of the 1970's.  What is the Maker Revolution?  Who are the local revolutionaries and how will these new technologies affect our daily lives and our ability to create new business opportunities?  How can the Maker Revolution inspire our children to pursue their studies to join the revolution?  Come and learn what the tools of making, the institutions supporting makers and the future of making will be in the decades to come.  Dr. Thomas Deits will be our presenter.

Animal Gender and Sexual Diversity

Using topics from the book "Evolution's Rainbow," we will have a fascinating presentation and discussion of the diversity in gender and sexuality among some members of the animal kingdom.  No matter how much you already know about animal sexuality, be it a lot or a little, you will be amazed at the diversity in our natural world.  Our presenter will be Lansing Community College Biology Professor, Tim Periard.

Cafe Scientifique Welcomes Non-Fiction Graphic Novelist Jim Ottaviani

Schuler Books has teamed up with the Lansing Community College Science Department to bring you Cafe Scientifique, a monthly science discussion group.  This month we are pleased to welcome back Ann Arbor non-fiction graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani!  The last time he visited us, we talked about his graphic biography Feynman, about physicist Richard Feynman.  This time, we'll be looking at his new book Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.  Illustrated by Maris Wicks, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century.  These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology - and to our own understanding of ourselves.

Where are the hydrogen fueled vehicles?

As the price of gasoline waxes and wanes, so too does interest in vehicles fueled by hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe.  This presentation will examine the challenges and benefits of creating hydrogen powered vehicles, the infrastructure necessary to operate them, and a look at a couple of examples of these vehicles already in service.  Adjunct Professor of Physics, David Shane was the presenter.

Vaccines - where are we and how did we get there?

Few health care decisions have generated more passion in recent years than the decision to vaccinate children.  How did what once was viewed as an unalloyed public good become so controversial?  We will have a conversation about vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry and some of the work that is the core of the current public concerns about the safety of vaccination.  Dr. Thomas Deits will be our presenter.

Special Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and other Weird Physics Stuff!

Can you live longer than your twin or fit in a space smaller than your size by moving fast enough? Can you tunnel through a thick wall by repeatedly beating your head against it? These are possibilities in the worlds of the really fast and the really small! Strange aspects of modern physics along with some applications to our everyday lives were discussed.  LCC Physics Professor Alex Azima was our presenter.

Learning to Fly

This month's topic was lucid dreaming. The ability to interpret and control your dreams is not just mythology and superstition.  Many of us (including serious scientists) use our dreams to work out problems, solve creative challenges, and experience otherwise impossible events.  This presentation discussed how to unlock your second life.  Biology Professor Meg Elias presented.

Who Will Speak for the Planet Earth?

How has space exploration impacted our perceptions of God, self, and religion since the time of Galileo but especially since the twentieth-century? When the day finally arrives and we actually encounter a civilization around another star, will the people of our planet be able and willing to put aside their differences and speak with a single voice? Who should speak for the planet Earth - the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Dalai Lama, the Pope? These questions will be integral to government and religious leaders in the future. Education, too, will be affected by continued space exploration. When we realize at last that we're not alone in the cosmos, we will be forced to humbly accept that all our planet's art, music, literature, philosophy, religion, science, and topicname - all of what we teach in our churches, schools and universities - represents one world history in a many worlds universe. Will we be ready?

Open Mike Night

This previous Cafe Scientifique was an experiment in scientific discourse.  The idea is that anyone who wants to discuss any scientific topic at all - whether as an expert who just wants to summarize something interesting, someone with an off-the-wall theory about whatever, or a regular person who just wants to have a chat about a topic and are looking for enlightenment from the audience, anyone is welcome.  The rules are pretty simple.  There will be a moderator whose rule is law.  There will be a maximum time limit of 10 minutes per person with 5 minutes for questions.  Everyone will behave nicely.  Folks who contact Cafe Scientifique at the email address <> in advance with a brief description of their topic will get preference, but we will consider folks who just show up the night of and want to give it a whirl.  Like any open mike event, be ready for some hits and some misses, but we guarantee an interesting evening for all concerned.

The gene BRCA1 and its relationship to breast cancer - Oops! I just broke the law!

Many feel that the patent system is fundamentally broken worldwide.  We will talk about a very important gene that, if it is mutated, confers a vastly higher risk of breast cancer.  Amazingly, under current patent law by merely stating this fact, I may be violating the patent rights of a biotech company.  How can this be?  Does this mean the patent system in fact no longer achieves its goal of fostering innovation?  Dr. Thomas Diets will be our presenter.

The Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, is the world's highest energy particle accelerator. Having taken 15 years to build, it is now operating with collision energies of 8 TeV (trillion electron volts). Four large particle detectors are located around the 17-mile circumference of the LHC. Michigan State University (and the University of Michigan) physicists are members of the team of scientists working on the largest of these detectors, the ATLAS experiment. Recent results appear to show the discovery of the long-sought-after Higgs particle.

THE FUTURE OF MANKIND: The merging of man and machine. Will we be the next Borg?

According to inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil (among others), in the next few years our lives will be dramatically changed by advances in robotics, genetics and nanotopicname. He predicts a technological singularity that will arrive around 2045, where people will need to have their intellects mechanically enhanced in order to keep up with the accelerating changes. Join entertainer, programmer and author, Jonathan Stars, as we look at both the promise and peril of our future with machines.

UNCERTAINTY: where the mysterious actions of sub-atomic particles and the shadowy complexity of human motivation meet.

The April meeting of Cafe Scientifique will offer a program combining theatre, history and science.  Riverwalk Theatre will present a scene from its upcoming production of COPENHAGEN, the award winning play by Michael Frayn on the 1941 meeting between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, followed by a discussion by Jeff Conn, Wayne State University; Alex Azima, Physics Professor, Lansing Community College; and Mary Job, director of COPENHAGEN, on the history, philosophy, psychology and science behind the play.  Come join as part of a wide-ranging discussion on "how do we know what we know?", whether we are exploring physical reality or human interaction.

"Three Mile Island Revisited: After Fukushima"

Nuclear power is once again a topic of conversation as we are faced with the consequences of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.  Lansing Community College Professors Mindy Wilson and Alex Azima will discuss the basics of nuclear power generation and related issues, including waste storage and processing, health effects of nuclear radiation, security issues and lessons learned from history.

"Cold-Blooded Kindness-Insights into Pathological Altruism."

Many humans feel empathy and altruism for others - this has been the subject of significant research in the past decade. But not everyone is empathetic or altruistic, and not every situation is one that empathetic caring can heal. In fact, our own feelings of empathy and caring can be turned against us-used as tools to further another's self-serving tendencies, or drawing us inextricably into another's pain. Join us as Professor Barbara Oakley uses engineering concepts of root cause analysis and optimization, as well as insights from neuroscience, to examine the dark side of empathy and altruism-a side we ignore at our peril if we truly want to help others.

"The World of Richard Feynman, with Ann Arbor graphic biographer Jim Ottaviani and Physicist Sekhar Chivukula of Michigan State University."

This month combined science and art, with a presentation by Jim Ottaviani, Ann Arbor author of the graphic novel biography Feynman, detailing the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, and by physicist Sekhar Chivukula of Michigan State University, who talked about Feynman's impact on the field of physics, rounding out our view of one of the most important scientists - and one of the most fascinating people - of the 20th century.

"Fair Food - An inspiring vision for change with Oran B. Hesterman, PhD."

Scientist, activist and author Dr. Oran B. Hesterman, presents his solutions-oriented approach to fixing the broken food system by changing not only what we eat, but how our food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed and sold.  Fresh off a national book tour and back in his home state, Hesterman will explain the innovative programs he has implemented in Michigan and the inspiring programs he has witnessed and funded nationwide.  Grounded in a deep knowledge of agriculture, Dr. Hesterman will unpack the larger picture of sustainability laid out in his recent publication: Fair Food:  Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All.

"Interaction of Chemistry and History"

Science and humanities classes are traditionally taught as two distinct subjects.  The truth is, they are anything but isolated topics.  Developments in chemistry affected the course of history while history and socio-economic conditions controlled the pace of chemistry.  Have you ever wondered why alchemy (chemistry's original form) developed in some areas but not in others?  Or considered how chemistry is changing based on our current social concerns.

"Confusing Climate: The Role of Images in Conveying Climate Change"

Presenters: Michigan State University Professors Julie Libarkin and Stephen Thomas
Visual imagery is ubiquitous in science and a powerful tool for conveying science to both experts and novices. In general, scientists initially create images to convey information to each other; these images are often simplified and enhanced before being used to convey information to students and the general public. Both the science of image design and visual literacy, the extent to which people can understand images, are often missing in the image development process. Without considering these, the potential for misinterpretations of science to unintentionally arise cannot be underestimated. This talk will discuss our research on visual literacy, image design, and science communication, with a particular focus on climate change. Using surveys, eye tracking, and interview techniques, we have identified significant disconnects between the expectations of scientists and the ability of students to engage with climate change imagery. In this work, we propose alternative images for conveying key climate change messages, and are interested in the Cafe participants' feedback.

"The 'Warrior' Gene"

In a recent high profile murder case, genetic testing resulted in the defendant being charged with a lesser crime. The defendant carried the so-called "warrior" gene which has been linked to aggression and other anti-social behavior. Lansing Community College faculty member Arthur Wohlwill will discuss the biological nature of the gene and the consequent ethical and legal implications.

"What is a Healthy Human Diet?"

In 1977, a committee led by Senator George McGovern issued their Dietary Goals for the United States: eat less fat, cholesterol and sugar, and more carbohydrates including fruits and whole grains. Their recommendations quickly became our nation's idea of a healthy diet. That year, obesity began to rise. With it came a host of ailments including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia - collectively known as the metabolic syndrome. The trend continues to this day, despite our eating more grains and less fat. Did we not follow the recommendations closely enough, or were they somehow incorrect? Since nutrition is a biological question, and evolution is the theory that unifies biological facts, does evolution have anything to say about nutrition? Did a caveman know more about healthy food than a U.S. Senator? Alex Krusz, adjunct lecturer in mathematics at Lansing Community College, will present historical, anthropological and biological data that may challenge your idea of a healthy meal.

"Managing Water Resources"

Lansing Community College faculty member Michael Brundage will discuss water resource management.  He will highlight how a group of entities in Las Vegas, NV (UNLV, Sierra Club, Outside Las Vegas, NPS, BLM, Clark County School District, and Forever Earth) worked together to address this critical issue in their region.

"The Millenium Prize Problems"

In order to celebrate mathematics in the new millennium, The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts established seven Prize Problems on March 24, 2000. They currently offer a $1,000,000 cash prize to anyone who provides a solution. The Prizes were conceived to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems. Please join us as Eric Waggoner, physics and mathematics faculty member at Lansing Community College, briefly summarizes the problems and describes what makes them so interesting.

"Are Male and Female Brains Wired Differently?"

Are anatomical sex differences in human brain significant?  Dr. Christel Marschall, Biology Professor at Lansing Community College, will present and discuss the results of recent research in this area.

"Was Pluto ever a planet?"

Presenters:  Michael Byers, author, and Bruce Greenway, astronomer and computer scientist.
The recent demotion of Pluto from planetary status has caused a worldwide uproar-the smallest planet turns out to have legions of devoted fans.  But in 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh found the image that would turn out to be Pluto, the history of this elusive body was already surrounded by mystery, obsession, and controversy.  Michael Byers' new novel about the discovery of Pluto, Percival's Planet, based on archival research and a careful reconsideration of the historical facts, suggests that even those closest to the discovery had reason to suspect that what they'd found wasn't exactly a planet after all.  Why would Vesto Slipher and others at Lowell Observatory be willing to let Planet X be called a planet? What pressures were they feeling from wealthy and prominent backers?  And why did they bring in Clyde Tombaugh-with only a high-school degree-to do the bulk of the difficult searching?  Michael Byers will discuss his novel and Bruce Greenway, an astronomer and computer scientist who personally knew Clyde Tombaugh, will discuss the 2006 International Astronomical Union definition of Planet and the resulting demotion of Pluto.

"Inside the Total perspective Vortex - a Layman Looks at the Size of the Universe and Everything."

Presenter:  Tom Deits, Chairperson, Science Department, Lansing Community
In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes a fiendish torture device, the "Total Perspective Vortex." It's a booth that when you enter it forces you to fully understand your relative size in the universe.  We will spend some time talking about what current scientific theories say (some of it still speculative, but much based on observational data) about the place of the Earth and its inhabitants in the perspective of the universe as it is currently understood.

The Biology of Sexual Orientation

Presenter: Marc Breedlove, Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Neuroscience,
Michigan State University
We'll discuss the growing evidence that events before birth change the probability that a person will grow up to have a homosexual orientation. In females, many different lines of evidence indicate that individual differences in exposure to prenatal androgens such as testosterone can affect sexual orientation. For males, there is a fraternal birth order effect: the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay in adulthood. These data will be contrasted with traditional explanations of homosexuality in humans.

Creatures of Crime:
The Role of Insects in Crime Scene Investigations

Presenter: Richard Merritt, Forensic Entomologist & Professor, Michigan State University
Entomology is the study of insects and medicolegal forensic entomology deals with arthropod involvement in events surrounding felonies, usually violent crimes such as murder, suicide and rape, but can also involve cases of extreme neglect and abuse. Key elements in these investigations include: the time between death and corpse discovery, which is referred to as the postmortem interval or PMI, the movement of the corpse, the manner and cause of death, association of suspects with the death scene, as well as detection of toxins or drugs through analyses of insect larvae. Because insects and other arthropods have predictable life histories, habitats, known distributions, and developmental rates, they can provide important information about when, where, and even how a particular crime occurred. I will show some of the major insects involved in crime scene investigations, explain how I determine the PMI, and discuss some major criminal cases I have been involved with to assess the role of forensically important insects.

Home Solar Energy in Michigan What Makes Sense?

We will consider the following:

  • Solar hot water and solar photovoltaics
  • Net-metering and other financial considerations
  • Will my investment pay for itself?
  • Building codes, it's the law!
  • Charlatans bearing Snake-Oil
  • The Utilities ... the rest of the story
Galileo's Achievements and His Human Relationship Challenges

A discussion celebrating the January 1610 discovery of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. We will talk about the role temperament played in Galileo's science and in his human relationships, with a focus on Galileo's achievements.

Corn, Verbs, and Spit

Scientists weave together a variety of data that make it possible to discover relationships between what we see in the present and what happened in the past. We will look at a few particularly intriguing examples that reveal much about life in America before Columbus and in Polynesia before the arrival of Westerners. Along the way we will chat about how these techniques can be used in many other settings, from the origins of the universe to the history of life on earth.

Blood Transfusions: A Modern Perspective for Patients and Their Families
  • What are blood components and how are they derived and used in various clinical situations?
  • What are my chances of contracting an infectious disease from a blood transfusion?
  • Is it safe to donate blood?
  • What are artificial bloods and how might they be used?
  • What is autologous blood?
  • What is donor-directed blood and is it really safer than that derived from donor centers?
  • Is there a shortage of blood & its components in the U.S.? and how many patients at Sparrow Hospital receive blood in a year?
Do you live in an alternate universe?

What's all the fuss about dark matter, string theory, parallel universes, and all that? We will discuss and explore some of the oddities of modern physics!

The Dancing Plague

It began sometime in the middle of July 1518, in the medieval city of Strasbourg. A woman stepped  into the street and started to dance. Within days more than 40 had been overcome with the same compulsion and by the end of August as many as 400 people had at some point joined in this crazed dance. We do not know how many people succumbed to exhaustion but the chronicles agree that many died. What could have impelled people to dance themselves to death? In trying to solve the enigma of the dancing plague, we will explore the strangest capabilities of the human mind and the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.

Sloths, toucans, and strangler figs........who cares?

What can tiny Costa Rica, a Central American country the size of West Virginia, teach us about how to do things right (at least when it comes to preserving biodiversity)?  What is biodiversity and how is it measured?  Why are rainforests so fragile?  Why is the conservation of tropical biodiversity so important?  Vivid slides of wildlife and plants, taken on eight trips to Costa Rica, will enhance the discussion.

Dark Ages in Cyberspace:  Unscientific Movements on the Internet

The Internet has served as a vast source of scientific information and as a medium for scientific discussion.  Despite this, there exists a myriad of on-line communities and organizations that promote unscientific arguments and agendas.  We will investigate a variety of these movements, scientifically analyze their main points, determine their political motives, and tackle some of their commonly used arguments.

It's Only a Theory

When scientists speak of scientific theories, laws, hypotheses and guesses, what do they mean?  Scientists' use of these terms has changed dramatically in the centuries since modern science began.  Understanding what these terms once meant and what they mean in modern scientific practice is essential to evaluating and making decisions as informed citizens.

Darwin: The Third Century Begins

Charles R. Darwin was born on February 12, 1809.  We'll look back at his life and his legacy of scientific work, and what that may mean for the coming century.  While Darwin's influence is most pronounced in the transformation of natural history into the modern science of biology, he made seminal contributions to many scientific fields, including geology, botany, psychology, ethology, and agriculture.  Join us for an evening of discussion of the work of an exceptional lifetime.

Nuclear Power: A Precarious or a Plausible Source of Energy?

Nuclear power is once again a topic of conversation as we consider alternatives to fossil energy sources.  We will discuss the basics of nuclear power generation and related issues, including waste storage and processing, health effects of nuclear radiation, security issues and lessons learned from history.

Cloning:  From Frogs to Humans?

A little more than a decade ago, Dolly the cloned sheep made world wide head lines. However, she was not the first cloned organism. We will discuss the long and controversial history of cloning and what our current topicname can do. Can we clone a dinosaur, as in Jurassic Park? Can we clone a dead cat? Can we clone a human? Should human cloning be allowed?

Bad to the Bone: Horrors!  Can Our Genes Help Make Us Evil

One of the most difficult problems in society today is understanding why some people intentionally inflict emotional and physical pain on others.  Such intentional pain occurs not only on a local level--within families, with "friends," or in work situations, but also on a national and international scale--witness Hitler's Holocaust, Stalin's notorious purges, and Chairman Mao's knowing slaughter of tens of millions.  Neuroscience and genetics are providing the potential for a revolution in our understanding of why "bad" people do what they do.

Perch and Pike, Punters and Puffers and Political Polls

Sampling is a way to answer questions that start out "How many...." or "What's the average...." when we can't count or measure every individual.  We'll talk about some advantages and disadvantages of sampling, focusing on how to count the fish in a lake, how to ask embarrassing questions when those responding don't trust you to keep a secret, and what "within the margin of error" means in political polling.

Species Reintroduction:  Beneficial or Damaging?

For years, humans have been introducing and reintroducing plants and animals into the environment.  A live porcupine and peregrine falcon will be used to discuss the reintroduction projects that these two species have been involved in.  Also, there will be discussion on the control and management of purple loosestrife and wolves in Michigan.

Spores-Friends or Foes? Bioterrorism & Bionanotopicname

For some bacteria, it's not simply divide and multiply, divide and multiply.  Instead, they sometimes produce extraordinarily tough nano-sized particles called spores.  We will talk about why some spores are a threat while others are quite benign and may, in time, become a key tool in the field of bionanotopicname.

This Discussion May Break the Law: The collision of intellectual property and intellectual freedom

Recent legal disputes revolving around the patenting of scientific advances have led to a situation where even the discussion of certain scientific observations may be considered patent infringement and subject to persecution.  What is the pivotal discovery that has prompted this controversy?  If we talk about it some attorneys say we are breaking the law!  We will reveal the secret and discuss how we should balance the need for intellectual property and the need for free discourse.

Building the Ship in a Bottle on the Ship in a Bottle

How are elements heavier than iron created?  Why is there a difference between the predicted and observed abundance of elements?  What is the precise nature of ultra-dense, several-tons-in-a-teaspoon neutron stars, which astronomers know to be among the brightest sources of X-rays in the universe?  The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan Sate University is one of the world's top facilities for producing new versions of atomic nuclei.  By everyday standards, this is a construction process on a tiny scale, a necessary if challenging step in understanding how small objects on the atomic scale behave.  It is a quest that draws hundreds of researchers each year from around the world to request a nucleus be built with a certain mixture of ingredients.  What fuels interest in this science?

Why Does My Neighbor Hate Evolution? Understanding Antievolution, and Supporting Science Education

The polls have consistently shown that between 40 and 45% of citizens in the USA reject evolutionary science outright, putting us behind every other industrialized nation and just ahead of Turkey concerning general acceptance of evolution. Why is this the case, and just why is it that the antievolution advocates have had decades of success in weakening education on this topic?

The Fact and Fiction of Organic Farming

Sales of organic foods are projected to reach $32 billion by 2009. Are organic foods really more healthy? Are the techniques of the 20th century's "Green Revolution" really that bad? Can we feed the world without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides?

Is There Life on Mars (or elsewhere)?

For millennia, humankind has looked up at the stars and wondered: Are we alone in the universe? Today, we send scientific probes to explore the planets, moons, and asteroids in our solar system.  Where should we look for life? What should we look for?  How will we recognize alien life if we see it? Why is water essential for life? How does knowledge about microorganisms that live in extreme environments on Earth (like Antarctica or deep-sea hot springs) influence ideas about where life could exist in the solar system?
Recommended book: Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon.

Stabilization Wedges Climate Change Game

What should we do about greenhouse gas emissions?  Continue "business as usual" and double emissions by 2055 resulting in significant rise in global warming or keep emissions flat until mid-century and then work to reduce them avoiding the worst case scenario of climate change?

An Inconvenient Truth:  The Rest of the Story

What are exponential growth, the first and second laws of ecology, and lag time?  Why are they critical when considering global warming?  How close are we to triggering a tipping point and producing, '...sudden, catastrophic changes across the planet'?  What are Schellnhuber's twelve tipping points and how close are we to that?

Forensic Science: CSI Reality - Is there a "CSI Effect"?

The gap between public perception and reality within popular TV crime dramas is vast! Is there an emerging paradigm shift in Forensic Identification Services because of converging legal and scientific forces?

The Oddities of Sound, Music, & Hearing

What your brain hears that you don't; How do we process music?

Science at Lansing Community College

Science Department
Arts & Sciences Building, Room 3203
Phone: (517) 483-1092
Additional contact information »