I must admit, is excellent. Light chipped ice floats on the
slightly sweet pink, which doesn’t burn but warms, and for
some reason, I don’t even mind the flower blossom garnish
clinging to the rim. It is a warm fall day, and with the rain
halted and the wind pouring in, Noche Lounge is ridiculously
pleasant. It almost makes me forget how poor this bar always
makes me feel. I prop up my feet and watch as the people filter
in for the new Science Lounge.
told that science-themed drinks have been specially prepared
for the occasion. A drink for the boys and a drink for the
girls. I wonder if the peartini is the girls’ drink. Probable
mix-up; it couldn’t possibly be the boys’. Was there some
mistake? Perhaps I was told it was their signature drink?
crowd is gathering awkwardly around the bar. Lili Kelly, the
organizer of tonight’s event, works through the throng. A
reporter from one of the local daily newspapers affects that
uncomfortable sidling posture of the deadline-weary. He comes
up to me: “What the hell exactly is a science cafe?” Don’t
ask me, buddy, I got a peartini to consider. Ask her, I say,
pointing to the girl sitting by herself at the bar. She works
at the state museum, obviously young, seems intelligent. Talk
to her. Or this guy. I know he’s 25 and totally jacked in.
Works on the Internet. Get a good quote from him. Look credible.
Or from her, the one in the suit. I’ve been watching her network
like a pro for the past 15 minutes. She’ll tell you how much
she loves science and stuff.
I could feel guilty about drinking while “on duty,” but being
a journamalist, I do have something of a reputation to uphold.
Besides, science cafés, such as the one Kelly has organized
for tonight, are basically pitched as science for the layman,
plus drinks. For over a decade people have been getting together
in this format to grill experts on fields of interest. In
a bar. With drinks.
energy for informal science education, as she puts it, is
spectacular. Wanting a way to escape from the day-to-day of
her employ (she works in the Senate), she sees this event
as something of a homecoming for her. She used to work at
a science museum, in the community outreach office.
an article in The New York Times last fall,” says Kelly.
Since then, she has been vetting the idea through her circle
of friends, one of whom is a co-owner of Noche. “It ties to
the whole idea of Tech Valley, dealing with the issues of
the day. I wanted to get all the players from Albany, RPI,
and instead of focusing on an event, try to create a community.”
that community, she says, she has planned a four-part series
focusing on the main educational institutions in the region.
Tonight’s speaker is Dr. Nag Patibandla, director for the
Center for Future Energy Systems, and a professor at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute. The big question posed to him will
be: “Can Albany become energy independent?”
has melted, and my martini glass is beaded with condensation.
The vodka has gone to my head, and I am questioning whether
that question is a good one, and whether this professor-led
conversation has been thought out well enough. It seems too
vague. What does she mean by energy? Heating houses, propelling
cars, powering toasters? Who is Albany supposed to be independent
of? What does independent even mean? Where does this imaginary
line of independence delineate and does it even make sense
to draw such an imaginary line? What about those new batteries
they have in Japan that recharge in urine?
our attention, Kelly introduces Dr. Patibandla and outlines
her vision for the event. A 15-minute lecture, followed by
questions, and then more drinking. We settle in, and almost
immediately, I am bored.
into the professor’s lecture, I am thumbing mindlessly through
the stack of business cards that have been thrust tonight
at me, nursing my peartini at the bar. As Patibandla spins
off into a tangent I am having trouble caring about—I was
right, the issue is just too broad—I see that the clever bartender
has switched the television from football to Nova.
Makes me wish I could hear the TV.
back to some of the more fascinating conversations I’ve had
in my adult life. Alcohol has almost always been involved,
so the science café model is on to something. But I doubt
Kelly’s goal to create a community of eager science neophytes
and experts around Noche Lounge will pan out. It is just the
wrong environment to attract the geek grassroots needed to
fuel this sort of thing. To be fair, she has drawn a respectable
crowd of respectable looking 40- and 50-somethings for her
first night out, but I suspect this crowd is here more for
the networking than for the science.
is too bad. This is something I want in the Capital Region.
Ideally, for me, there will be more people like Kelly out
there, passionate and engaging, who will organize other similar
events, but at the bars that attract a younger, nerdier crowd.
With our obvious wealth of intelligentsia and bars, it seems
like the region could support all sorts of efforts. It is
something I want to happen. Cause I like to drink, and am
a big fan of science, too.