Science Cafe connects science with everyday life
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03/16/10 Matthew Cimitile
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

How is science experienced in everyday life? To answer that question, a science education professor held a "science cafe" at USF St. Petersburg earlier this month.

From medicines that cure illness to communication lines and satellites that transect the globe, routine days are made possible by science and technology. Science connectivity to everyday life is what experts cite as the importance of learning basic scientific principles, and was the theme of a discussion by USF St. Petersburg education professor Malcolm Butler.

An understanding of science makes it possible for everyone to share in the richness and excitement of comprehending the natural world. Scientific literacy enables people to use scientific principles and processes in making personal decisions — how fast we are going to drive, should we text by driving — and to participate in discussions of scientific issues that affect society. When folks start talking about building the next landfill, are we savvy enough to understand what it means to build a landfill?

Butler's discussion, titled “The Science of Our Lives: Bridging the Parallel Universes,” focused on connecting the gap between what many people view as science not directly connected to our daily lives.

One of the things I’d like to encourage us to do is to think about science as more than just a body of knowledge, and that is the typical way of people thinking about science. F = M/A, E = MC2, mitosis, meiosis, and we think about all of these terms and equations we have to remember. And all of a sudden, that becomes science. Well, what we are trying to promote is that that is part of science; it is critical to science, but there are other things that come into play when we think about science.

Butler said many of the skill sets used in science like observations, analysis and predictions are similar to skills in other fields such as math, history and language arts. The people who attended participated in activities that showed first-hand how science is integral in almost any aspect of life, from reading a newspaper to deciphering the science behind walking to a meeting.

You went to a meeting. Can we think of any way where you went to a meeting, science was a part of your going to a meeting? If it wasn’t for anatomy and physiology, you wouldn’t have made it to that meeting. You used a lot of physics, because if it wasn’t for friction, you wouldn’t have been able to walk. You used gravity, because if gravity wasn’t in play, you would be in a parallel universe.

The [American Association for the Advancement of Science] (http://www.aaas.org) suggests that as the world becomes increasingly scientific and technological, the present and future grow more dependent on how wisely humans use them. This is sobering news for the United States, which seems to be falling behind other industrialized nations in science and math literacy, according to multiple tests measuring student and adult comprehension of scientific and math principles. Butler said taking science out of the realm of the abstract and connecting it with our daily lives can help with improving science literacy.

When we live in another country, if we don’t know the language, it doesn’t mean we can’t function. We would probably do well. But when we come to understand the language, in this case of science, we don’t miss out on as much.

The science café was one in a series hosted by the Poynter Library at USF St. Petersburg.

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