Science cafes return to Potsdam Sept. 22
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - 5:46 am

POTSDAM -- Local university professors will lead the discussions at a new “Science Café” series starting Wednesday, Sept. 22, in a new location and at a new time.

Science Cafés this fall will take place Wednesday evenings at 7:15 p.m. on the second floor of La Casbah, 6 Elm St.

Science Cafés bring together local university and college professors and townspeople in a relaxed, informal setting, such as coffeehouses and pubs. The speaker makes a short presentation about a topic in his or her field, and then opens up the floor to discussion.

Five Science Cafés are set for the season, on Sept. 22, Oct. 6 and 20, and Nov. 3 and 17.

Here's a rundown of the topics and speakers:

• Sept. 22: Decision-Making Under Risk and Uncertainty

Decision-making is using information to guide behavior among multiple possible courses of action -- to move in some direction, to ingest something or not, or to favor one romantic partner over another. Such choices determine the way an organism makes its way in the world, and hence its degree of success in meeting the challenges of life. Join Clarkson University Psychology Professor Andreas Wilke for an interdisciplinary exploration into judgment and decision-making research and learn why the decision strategies modern humans (unconsciously) use are a result of the interaction between their evolved psychology and the environment in which they live.

• Oct. 6: Tensors and the "Cocktail Party Problem"

Imagine you are at a cocktail party. In this loud and crowded environment, you are able to follow and zero in on several sounds around you -- music, conversation, laughter, or even a siren outside. How can you do this? Although the science behind it is not completely figured out, it is known that humans can innately focus on one sound at a time among a mixture of sounds in a noisy environment. This is known as the "cocktail party problem." Today, modern technology tries to mimic this fascinating human behavior. Clarkson University Mathematics Professor Carmeliza Navasca will lead a discussion of how mathematics and "tensor" computation imitate the cocktail party problem and other equally astonishing feats.

• Oct. 20: The CSI Effect: Television and Technology in the Courtroom

Over the last 15 years, television has been inundated with programs that focus on the science of solving crimes. Often those creating the programs misinterpret or embellish the actual state of forensic science, solving unsolvable problems within a matter of a few hours on the program. This has actually led to a measured change in the way prosecutors and defense attorneys select juries, as it is believed that seeing the "fake" science on television has changed jurors' attitudes towards forensic evidence in actual cases. Jurors now want to see better scientific results than is actually realistically possible, because they have seen these good results on TV. This phenomenon is known as the "CSI Effect." Join Clarkson University Mathematics Professor Aaron Luttman as he discusses the current state of research on the CSI Effect, and uses a particular example to demonstrate the state of the art in forensic imaging and how it is represented on television and in the courtroom.

• Nov. 3: Exercise Myths

Most of us would like to see a little less fat around our middle. But is it really possible to lose weight from just "problem areas" (also known as Spot Reduction)? Unfortunately, it's not going to happen. We will look at the physiology behind popular exercise myths to see why you can be fit yet overweight, why "no pain, no gain" is not a recommended mantra, and why weight gain as we age does not necessarily have to be inevitable. Join Clarkson University Physical Therapy Professor Deanna Errico and explore some of the more popular exercise myths and find out why they don't add up to good health when examining the physiology of the body.

• Nov. 17: Lies, Damned Lies and ...

Our modern world is flush with numbers, data and, yes, statistics. Statistics influence how we view and understand our world. Better understanding of where statistics come from and how to interpret them is an important skill for any citizen. By considering what statistics tell us, we can become more educated consumers of statistics. St. Lawrence University statistics Professor Michael Schuckers will lead a discussion of the basic concepts of statistics. Illustrations from recent events, including medicine and politics, will be covered.

Find out more about Clarkson's Science Café at

E-mail Daniel ben-Avraham at with any comments, questions or suggestions for future Science Cafe topics.

Find out more about Science Cafés in general at .