“Even the most informal science gatherings seem… formal!” I was chatting with my dear friend and a brilliant geneticist Arnaud Martin, when we decided that it was on us to change gears within our community. Imagine hanging around in a living room in an intimate and welcoming atmosphere, conversing about topics ranging from CRISPR gene editing technology to NASA’s satellite missions to history of drone warfare. Exciting stuff, I know!

It starts with an email that goes out to a group of friends, who are encouraged to extend the invitation to others. The message usually goes something like this:

“Join us for the next iteration of the Wise-on / Why Zone series: casual PowerPoint-based infotainment to ask all your “why”s and get your wise on. Like a cosmic collision between TED talks, Cheech and Chong, and Drunk History.
No proselytism of course. Brought to you by Tatev and Arnaud”


Presenters use PowerPoint presentation as a storytelling tool, while making sure that their message can be understood by the least informed participant. As a facilitator of the events, I lead by example and interrupt the speakers throughout, asking any and every question, even if some inquiries seem silly or unscientific. This is a very unique format of learning about cutting-edge science, which Arnaud and I are able to put together since both our work and friend networks include many local and visiting STEM practitioners. The event takes place in our living room with about 30 people seating in semi-circle, where planned 30 minute talks run beyond 2 hours. Testimonies from presenters and participants have been beyond encouraging with “this is at the heart of why we do science” to “I have never presented to such an engaged audience” and “I learned so much today!”

Presenter bios are always minimal, but you’d have to agree that they are quite attention-grabbing. Here are a few recent presenters:

  1. Aaron Pomerantz (Nat Geo fellow) will present his upcoming pitch for the iBiology Young Scientist award (!) about the discovery of a new species in Peru (!!), and Damien Gailly will show his work on insect evolution and development. We are lucky to have them visiting from outer space this week. 

  2. Ben Ashman will take you behind the science and discuss the engineering that enables NASA's science missions. He will explain what satellites are, how they work, and what he does at Goddard Space Flight Center as the Flight Dynamics Lead. We are lucky to have Ben successfully navigate his spacecraft into our living room in Columbia Heights this Sunday! 

  3. Arnaud Martin will ask a complex yet beautiful question: Do butterflies dream of evolutionary free-jazz and genetic tattoos? The biosphere is populated with species so astonishing that if they did not exist, they would be hard to believe. The generation of this explosive diversity during evolutionary deep time relies on the modification of development, tweaking the construction modules that make a complex organism out of a single original cell, the fertilized egg. Let us go deep into the study of the greatest art show on Earth, and explore these principles using the visually stunning features of butterflies and their wing patterns.

  4. Next up: Katherine Chandler will talk to us about connections, disjuncture and ambivalence between humans and nonhumans. Kate is an inspirational researcher, critic, and artist, who studies various sociopolitical and historic aspects of unmanned aerial vehicles or, simply said, drones. Have you thought of the bureaucracies behind drone warfare? Kate has as you can see in her short article Death by PowePoint. Her PowerPoint will be lethal in that it will kill your mind with overload of new and exciting knowledge!

If you are in Washington DC and would like to attend the next event, send me an email and I will keep you in the loop. And don’t forget to ask your “why”s!

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All content by Tatev Sargsyan (unless otherwise noted), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.