Previous Cafes

March 2017 Cafe:
Synthetic Biology: New Techniques That Might Change Human History

Featured Cafe Presenter:   Yi-Hsien Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Genome Engineering and iPSC Center, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine

Speaker Bio:
yi-hsien-chen-photoYi-Hsien Chen moved to Saint Louis from Yi-Lan, Taiwan in 2010. He studied Genetics at Queen’s Medical Center of Nottingham University, UK and finished his postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. Passionate about medical research, the move to Saint Louis was a natural fit. Yi-Hsien is currently an assistant director of Genome Engineering and iPSC Center (GEiC) at Washington University. In his free time, he loves to go hiking, play basketball and watch movies. He also participates in the Biotechnology and Life Science Advising (BALSA) Group at Washington University. BALSA provides consulting services not only to Washington University faculty members, but to Biotech companies in the real world as well.

About the Cafe: 

It’s called Syn Bio for short. And it could change everything in Biology, from medicine to mosquito control. Synthetic Biology is a relatively new field that combines biology, engineering, and genetics. It is the artificial design of biological systems, or even living organisms, for applications in the real world. A scientist can put together standardized DNA parts to create something entirely new. CRISPR, one synthetic biology technique, made the cover of TIME last year as “The Gene Machine.” Could this lead to artificial life? Or a cure for malaria? Or become a new bio-weapon? What are the ethical implications? Come find out about this amazing new field, it’s applications and implications for us all!


February 2017: SciFest Dream Big Speaker Event

On the evening of February 22, 2017, Dr. Marc Edwards will be speaking at the Saint Louis Science Center. This singular event is by invitation only, and the Teen Science Café leaders have been invited to be there!Edwards-WEB-FEAT-360x327

Dr. Edwards led the Virginia Tech team during the Flint Water Crisis last year. During this crisis, it was exposed that the residents of Flint, Michigan (near Detroit) had been drinking contaminated water so that the city could save money. Children were exposed to high levels of lead for over a year, and many people got sick. Dr. Edwards and others proved that the water was contaminated even though local officials had denied it. Currently, the Michigan Attorney General has charged a number of government officials with felonies for covering up the crisis.

Dr. Edwards will speak about his role as a whistleblower and the health of America’s water supplies. This is an amazing opportunity for our teen leaders!

Marc Edwards, Ph.D., Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech


November 2016: Exploration or Expedition? Exploring the Secrets of Caves!

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Featured Cafe Presenter:  Aaron Addison, Director, Collaborative Research & Data/GIS University Libraries, Washington University in St. Louis.

Have you ever visited a cave while on vacation and wondered what is just around the corner beyond the trail?  Then this Teen Cafe is for you!  Geographer and cave explorer Aaron Addison discuss the amazing world of caves and the scientific study of caves.  You’ll learn how exploration can become an expedition to understand the unknown corners of our planet and add to the scientific record; get answers to your questions, and work with some of the tools cave scientists use while making maps of underground worlds.

Aaron Addison, Director of Collaborative Research & Data\GIS from Washington University in St. Louis demystifies the world of caves in this fascinating Teen Science Cafe on the world beneath our feet!

Meet the Speaker for this cafe, Aaron Addison.


September 2016: The Cool Side of the Cosmos

Have you ever wondered how scientists study the cosmos without ever going into space? Find out how researchers are able to measure and study something that originates in another part of the universe from right here on Earth!  Join us and explore the astrophysics behind cosmic rays and learn why so many astrophysicists travel to Antarctica to conduct their experiments.  Dr. Martin Israel from the Department of Physics & The McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University will tell us about his research and his experiences studying cosmic rays.

Meet the Speaker for this cafe, Dr. Martin Israel.


March 2016: Cell Biology: How Cells Get in Shape!

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All life on Earth is made of cells. But cells don’t all look alike―if they did, we would resemble blobs or blocky Minecraft creatures! So, what gives rise to the incredible diversity of cell shapes? And what is the purpose of different cell shapes? Join us for the next Teen Science Café to find out! We will journey into cells and discover how beams, motors and cables inside cells work to dynamically create and change their shapes. You will then do a hands-on lab project to design and create a cell shape of your choice using materials provided. The team that best replicates a complex cell shape will win a prize!

Meet the speaker for this cafe, Ram Dixit


October 2015: Math Explorations: Graphs, Paths, and Unsolved Questions in Mathematics

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Explore possibilities with math through puzzles and challenges. Learn about mathematicians’ real-life problem-solving work then challenge yourself to try out the same problems with other teens.

Meet the speaker for this cafe, Adam Weyhaupt


April/May 2015: Designing Games for Science

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Come speak with John Coveyou, director and lead game designer of Genius Games. Learn about his path from science to game design, and play some biology and chemistry themed games with your friends!

Meet the speaker for this cafe, John Coveyou


March 2015: Aerospace Engineering: Design Challenge!

20150330_175627Have you ever wondered how an airplane stays in the air? Or how to design an airplane that goes really fast?  If you answered yes, then come and meet Mitch Pace, a Mass Properties Engineer at Boeing!  He will discuss the different aspects of making airplanes, including configuration design, aerodynamics, propulsion, guidance and control,  and mass properties.  After learning about what goes into building a plane, you will get to design and build your own paper airplanes using the principles that Mitch talked about.  There will be a competition to see whose airplane can fly the farthest and the straightest! You don’t want to miss out!

Meet the engineer for this cafe, Mitch Pace


February 2015: Furry Friend or Perilous Pest? Exploring the Connection Between Wildlife and Human Health

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Mosquitos and malaria, chickens and chagas disease, raccoons and rabies, rainfall runoff and waterborne disease, chimpanzees and HIV, colony collapse and bees– we’re all connected, people, animals, the environment.  Learn how scientists track Patient Zero–the case at the center of a disease outbreak; and discover the links between humans, wildlife and environmental health in this teen cafe on One Health, the science that works at the crossroads of human medicine and public health, veterinary medicine and environmental science to improve and defend the health of all species for a healthier planet.  Join us as we reach across disciplines, species and boundaries to solve 21st century health challenges from staph infections in humans and companion animals to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.It’s your world, learn more about how to protect it in this hands-on teen cafe that explores the rapidly growing field of One Health.

One World – One Medicine – One Health

Between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines–nor should there be.”      
–Rudolf Virchow, MD (father of cellular pathology)

“The One Health initiative offers a trans-disciplinary, holistic approach necessary to solve the 21st century challenges that increasingly threaten wildlife species survival, ecosystem sustainability and public health.”
–Sharon L. Deem, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACZM, Director, Institute for Conservation Medicine, Saint Louis Zoo

Meet the scientist for this cafe, Dr. Kelly Lane-deGraaf


January 2015: Nanotechnology: The Science of the Small

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How small can you get?  What does “nano” mean?  Is nanotechnology already present in our everyday lives?  What can it lead to in the future?  Join us for the next Teen Science Cafe to find out!  Dr. Suzanne Lapi from Washington University will talk about her work in nanotechnology, and you will even get to try some activities with objects that use real nanotechnology!  Hear from Dr. Lapi about how she found her career innanotechnology and about her current research in the production of novel radio isotopes for medicine and development of new radiopharmaceuticals for cancer imaging.

Meet the scientist for this cafe, Dr. Suzanne Lapi


October 2014: The Tangled Jungle Path to Primatology

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Have you ever been told that you are “just monkeying around?” What do monkeys act like anyway, and how do scientists study them in the wild? Take a tour down the “tangled jungle path” to primatology and the study of non-human primates in South America in this cafe. Learn what it is like to be out in the field studying tamarins, marmosets, muriquis, and more with Dr. Jennifer Rehg, a primatologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. You might even find yourself acting like a monkey, too!

Meet the scientist for this cafe, Jennifer Rehg.


September 2014: 3D Printing – The Power to Create!

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A functioning desktop business card holder. Photo copyright Alex Madinger

A functioning desktop business card holder. Photo copyright Alex Madinger

Featuring: Alex Madinger

3D printing is a new way of making things. It can make things in plastic and metal, just like most things are made, but what makes it really cool is that it makes physical 3D objects from what you design on a computer. Just like when you use Word or Google Docs to write a report and then get a physical copy on paper through a document printer, 3D printers create a physical 3D object from what you make.

Want an example? Did you know the Iron Man suits for the movies were 3D printed? I got to wear the original gauntlet at a 3D printing conference!

You can make nearly anything you can design on a computer. If you were to give me the computer model of an object from a video game, you could get a physical version using 3D printing.

That’s actually how I got into all this. When I was in high school, I liked making props from video games and movies. I always wanted to be as close as possible to the original, which is why a friend of mine recommended 3D printing. I must admit I haven’t used it for that purpose yet, I still want to create a full-scale sword, but I’m using it for some really cool other things. My favorite so far was creating a functional prosthetic hand for a little boy. I’ll bring one of the prototypes to the Science Cafe. Hope to see you there!

See “Meet a Scientist” for Alex Madinger’s bio!


 April/May 2014 – Defying Gravity: Aerospace Innovation Challenge

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Join engineers and grad students from SLU’s Parks College of Engineering as they take us on a tour of the aerospace engineering labs! Experience a wind turbine, see metal get pulled apart, and watch a ping pong ball smash a piece of balsa wood using just the power of atmospheric pressure.  These labs are full of amazing tools.  While you’re having fun, you will also learn about areas of research and career paths.  Don’t miss this chance to be blown away (literally, in front of the wind turbine)!

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


March 2014 – What Woke You Up?

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Don’t hit that snooze button – you might want to stay awake for this one! It’s time to rise and shine in this teen café that explores the science behind what wakes you up and ramps up your metabolism. And you just might learn why you find yourself snoozing through your first period biology class.

Timing is everything in this interactive and hands-on café that explores the collection of clocks in our bodies—our biological clocks, how they regulate our sleep/wake cycles, and what you risk when you don’t pay attention to the clocks in your brain.

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


February 2014 – Super Lasers

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Have you ever wondered how lasers work? What about what they’re used for? Believe it or not, you probably use lasers on a daily basis. From computers and disk readers to military use and general exploration, this light-base technology has become essential to society.

In this cafe, join Dr. Jack Glassman as he explains how lasers work through hands-on activities and explores real life applications of his research!

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


November 2013 – Indoor Air Pollution

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How much time do you spend indoors? Nine out of ten breaths you take come from inside a building or vehicle. Everything we bring into our homes can, potentially, make indoor air worse. Does an “air freshener” make air cleaner? What’s in that air and how can you make it better? From carpet to clothing, classrooms to meth labs, Dr. Glenn Morrison and his students have been working hard to answer this and many other questions about indoor air pollution. Join us as we explore the very real dangers of indoor air pollution, items that you may have in your home that can effect your health, how to reduce pollution in your home, and the steps that need to be taken for remediation of homes used as meth labs.  Expect interactive discussion with a real scientist and hands-on activities!

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.

See a detective video made by Dr. Morrison and his students here!


October 2013 – CosmoQuest: The Secrets of Craters

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How many craters does the moon have, and what can they reveal about its history?

Join us as we hear the story of Dr. Nicole Gugliucci’s journey from a doctorate degree in radio astronomy to engaging the public in citizen science through a program called Cosmoquest.

Expect hands-on activities that will not only answer these questions, but will also train you to contribute to real research from home!

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


September 2013 – Giant Tortoises, Backyard Turtles: Racing Extinction with a National Geographic Explorer

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Biologist and National Geographic Explorer, Stephen Blake, tells the story of Movement Ecology (a new field of study that is on the move). You’ll hear about his adventures in animal tracking, from Galapagos tortoise migrations to box turtles in St. Louis.

And join Stephen as he leads you in activities that show you the causes and consequences of the foraging, dispersal, and migration behaviors of animals.

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


April 2013 – Emergency Room Medicine

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Imagine the emergency room of the future. What life-saving technologies will it have? What advances will increase the efficiency of doctors, nurses, and technicians?

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Simulation Studies for Emergency Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Jason Wagner, takes us on a fascinating trip to visit the future of Emergency Medicine.

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


March 2013 – Bionics a Lesson on Biomechanics and Brain-Computer Interfaces

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Imagine that you lost your ability to use your hand or legs. Perhaps you even lost the limb itself. What would you do? How would you adapt? What challenges would you face on a daily basis? You may know one or more people who are affected by similar circumstances. Even famous public figures like physicist Stephen Hawking or past U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt have experienced the effects of paralysis and nerve atrophy.

Now imagine a future where missing or non-working body parts could be replaced or made useable with robotic prosthetic devices. These devices could closely simulate the human anatomy in beautiful detail, perhaps eventually even to the point that they looked quite similar. Robotic legs could allow those who are unable to walk to do so; mechanical hands could let a person pick up objects, draw, cook, clean, and more! Better yet, imagine that these devices plugged directly into your nervous system, allowing you to control them with your brain (much like a regular limb) and even to enjoy the sensation of touch. Wouldn’t that be great?!Fortunately, this dream is currently being pursued by biomedical researchers, and real progress is being made! Join us as we explore this progress and the world of robotic prosthetic devices through a brain-computer interface with Dr. Dan Moran of Washington University in a cafe that we call Bionics!

Learn more about the scientist for this cafe.


February 2013 – Zombies! A Lesson in Infectious Diseases and Disaster Preparedness

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Zombies….the people eating, mindless undead. Zombies used to just be monsters in horror films, but now are beginning to appear (with a slow limp or fast mad-dash) in science fiction. How , you ask? In some movies, people are transforming into zombies by coming into contact with some sort of virus or disease. In these cases, the “zombie apocalypse” is actually considered to be an infectious disease disaster.

Infectious disease disasters are large-scale events that involve an infectious disease, and can result in a lot of illness and death. Examples include a bioterrorism attack, an outbreak of a new disease, or a pandemic. Bioterrorism and pandemics can start without our knowledge, and can be difficult to identify until after a lot of people are ill. Infectious diseases can even occur in individuals who lack any symptoms, although they are still able to spread the disease.

During outbreaks, disease spread occurs most often where people spend a lot of time together, such as schools and in homes. It may be difficult to protect yourself from infection when so many people around you are sick. There is often no treatment or vaccine against infectious disease disasters, or not enough for everyone to receive it. About half of all people are expected to become infected during a pandemic, and this could mean that schools, malls, and other gathering places would need to be closed to prevent disease spread. Even pharmacies and grocery stores may need to close during a pandemic because so many people will be sick. Utilities, such as electricity and gas, may not be available during an infectious disease disaster if utility workers are out sick. Hard decisions will need to be made about who can/will be treated, who will receive medical attention, and who will be left to die. Infectious disease disasters can last for months or years, and can be very difficult to control.

Oddly, most infectious disease disasters tend to be worse for kids and young adults–even those who were not sick before the outbreak started. People under the age of 20 were most likely to die in past pandemics, although people of all ages were affected. During the 1918 influenza and Black Plague pandemics, entire towns were wiped out because so many people became sick and died.

Luckily, there are habits that you can make part of your daily life and preventative measures you can take to prepare for these disasters. While they may not completely ensure your survival during a zombie apocalypse (or other wide-spread infections), these tips may make the difference between life, illness, and even death. During this cafe, we will learn methods of disease prevention and disaster preparation during our very own zombie apocalypse.

Learn more about the Scientist for this cafe.