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Jazz and cocktails send SA scientists into Orbit

Waiters in white lab coats dispense smoking cocktails to patrons in Braamfontein’s Orbit jazz club, while a scientist in front of a rapt audience explains string theory. Welcome to Science & Cocktails with Jazz.

“Although science and technology play an integral role in people’s lives, too often it is viewed as divorced from reality,” says Kevin Goldstein, associate professor in physics at Wits University and cofounder of the Johannesburg arm of Science & Cocktails.

“The idea is to present science in a more relaxed and informal environment than the usual academic setting, hopefully bringing knowledge to a new audience,” he said.

At the inaugural event in July, Robert de Mello Koch, a professor at Wits, attracted a diverse crowd to his talk: “Space and time, light and gravity.”

The event, followed by a performance by the Peter Sklair Quartet, was sold out. Entrance is R20. One patron said: “I could go to a university talk about this for free, but … having it here makes it an event.”

The first Science & Cocktails took place in Denmark in 2010; according to its website “It is our belief that a night culture that evolves around knowledge, discussion and entertainment is altogether lacking in urban spaces.”

This belief saw Goldstein and Pretoria University associate professor Konstantinos Zoubos set up the Johannesburg chapter and add jazz into the mix.

A forum for South African science “[We want to] make people aware of some of the great science being done in South Africa,” Goldstein says. “It should be part of the cultural landscape, like art, literature, poetry, music or TV … We want to create a forum for South Africa’s leading scientists to communicate their results directly to the public.”

Next week, Wits professor Lynn Morris, who heads HIV virology at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, speaks on Aids vaccines.

Other speakers in the 2015 line-up for Science & Cocktails with Jazz, on the last Tuesday of every month, include Ig Nobel award-winner Marcus Byrne (You can roll it, but I wouldn’t smoke it), Himla Soodyall (Route to roots: understanding human origins) and Andrew Forbes (Let there be light.

Asked why they chose to have science talks at a jazz venue, Goldstein says: “Braamfontein’s been going through a bit of a renaissance recently; we’re happy to be part of that. The Orbit is conveniently close to the Gautrain and Wits … Even its name fits in with the science theme.”

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