Science Cabaret News


Alzheimer’s research: Play a game and everyone wins 01/27/17

Dec. 14, 2016

by Blaine Friedlander

(originally published in the Cornell Chronicle)

hris Schaffer describes recent Alzheimer’s disease research and promotes the online game Stall Catchers at Science Cabaret.

Chris Schaffer describes recent Alzheimer’s disease research and promotes the online game Stall Catchers at Science Cabaret. Photo credit: Blaine Friedlander

By playing a game on your computer, smartphone or tablet, you can help advance Alzheimer’s research.

Describing the latest scientific and medical breakthroughs to a packed house at Ithaca’s Science Cabaret Dec. 13, Chris Schaffer, associate professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, touted the new Stall Catchers game – a citizen-science project that speeds up Cornell’s Alzheimer’s disease research by a factor of 30.

The game’s videos come from the lab of Schaffer and Nozomi Nishimura, assistant professor in the Meinig School, where they examine how reduced brain blood flow contributes to the disease.

Schaffer explained it is difficult to develop computer algorithms to analyze moving images of blood vessel flow, but humans can easily decipher blood flow. Teens, adults and schoolchildren do exceptionally well at this game, he said.

Stall Catchers players examine movies of real blood vessels in mouse brains and search for stalls – clogged capillaries where blood stops flowing. By catching stalls, participants run up a score and compete against others around the world, win digital badges – and help humanity.

Schaffer and Mishimura are collaborating with EyesOnALZ, a citizen science project from the Human Computation Institute.

    Science Cabaret’s chicken lecture went over easy 11/27/16

    Nov. 16, 2016

    by Blaine Friedlander

    (originally published in the Cornell Chronicle)

    Jarra Jagne describes the chicken production cycle as Cornell student Marlie Lukach looks on at the Science Cabaret Nov. 15 at Coltivare restaurant.

    Jarra Jagne describes the chicken production cycle as Cornell student Marlie Lukach looks on at the Science Cabaret Nov. 15 at Coltivare restaurant. Photo credit: Blaine Friedlander

    Nobody flew the coop at the packed Nov. 15 Science Cabaret that featured Jarra Jagne, D.V.M. ’90, a senior extension associate at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and Marlie Lukach ’20, talking chicken.

    Jagne and Lukach offered technical details on the physiology of chickens, chick embryonic development, the wide variety of breeds and discussed the importance of 4-H – a New York statewide youth development program that Cornell manages.

    Lukach described embryo development, explaining when poultry producers can see a heart beat (day 3), the first appearance of a beak (day 6) or when the yolk sac draws into the young chick’s body cavity (day 19).

    Jagne provided a quick description of chicken parts, such as the comb, the wattle, the hock and nostril. She dove into the 25-hour process of how a yolk obtains an eggshell. The shell is made of calcium carbonate and the crowd learned that feeding ground oyster shells provides an “eggsellent” food source of calcium for the eggshell’s development.

    Regular chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) have about 4,000 yolks in their ovaries, but a normal egg-producer only makes about 350 eggs in total before their production career is over, Jagne noted.

      Sci Cab Chats with Mycologist Kathie T. Hodge 09/14/15

      kh11-portrait-1by Kitty Gifford

      Join us on Tuesday, September 15 for a Science Cabaret on mold, with Dr. Kathie T. Hodge, an Associate Professor of Mycology in the Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University.

      Kathie will be talking about the hairy cast of characters from the corners of your fridge…

      How did you become a scientist?

      My dad was a high school biology teacher, maybe that’s part of it. But I always loved nature as a kid, and in my childhood I roamed the cottage country north of Toronto, exploring. The smallest things were always my favorites. I just kept exploring those small things through high school and college and then grad school, until I found I had accidentally become a scientist. I am very fortunate to have a job where I can continue to learn and learn and learn. And also teach, and write, because few activities are more rewarding than to explain some abstruse idea to someone and have their face light up with wonder.

      And how has your interest in science continued (what keeps you inspired)? Who encouraged you?

      It was only when I got to college that I found there’s a whole community of geeky nature people like me. Beyond the admirable people and the bright, shiny students, there is so much more to learn– that is the really inspiring thing.

      What are you working on now?

      My grad student, Megan Daniels, is working on food molds. I’m working on various topics in the biodiversity of fungi. Like some strange insect-killing fungi. Also working with Curator Scott LaGreca to digitize museum collections at the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium.

      Describe your lab.

      My lab has a side that clearly belongs to a mad scientist: full of old books, artifacts, and microscopes. The other side is full of modern molecular biology equipment, incubators, and culturing facilities.

      What is one surprising thing you’d like people to know about mycology?

      1. We think that over 95% of fungi on earth have yet to be discovered. 95%!!

      2. Yeast is a fungus. Thank you, yeast.

      Bonus tidbit:

      Sci Cab alum Prof. Paul McEuen wrote a novel, Spiral, in which a main character bears an startling resemblance to Kathie (at least, startling to me: and she has Kathie’s job at Cornell. Although the woman in the novel is much more torture-resistant than the real Kathie). Spiral won the “Debut Thriller of the Year” award in 2012, and is set right here in Ithaca.


        Sci Cab Chats with Bee Expert Bryan Danforth 04/6/15

        Bryan Danforth - Cornell University

        by Kitty Gifford

        Join us on Tuesday, April 21 for a Science Cabaret on bees, with Dr. Bryan Danforth, professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University.

        Bryan will be talking about what is going on with honey bees as well his lab’s work on wild bees and how important they are to apple pollination.

        How did you become a scientist?

        I became interested in biology as a kid mucking around in the marshes and tidal pools of Fishers Island, NY. In High School I got really hooked on birding and my biology professor, John Curry, had us counting hawks in the springtime. I majored in biology at Duke University, where Fred Nijhout, a developmental biologist, introduced me to the fascinating world of insects. As an undergrad, I assisted with field projects in the sandhills of North Carolina and the coast of Connecticut. I discovered a love for evolutionary biology and field studies.

        And how has your interest in science continued (what keeps you inspired)? Who encouraged you?

        I discovered bees as a graduate student at the University of Kansas in the 1980s. Charles Michener, my thesis advisor, suggested I spend a summer in the desert southwest, where the diversity of North American bees is at its highest. I spent several summers studying bee nesting and foraging behavior at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona, a mecca for bee biologists. I had an outstanding mentor, Jerry Rozen (American Museum of Natural History), who introduced me to the fine art of studying bee nesting biology. With Dr. Michener and Rozen guiding my studies, I discovered the fascinating world of bee diversity and behavior.

        What are you working on now?

        My lab focuses mainly on to two topics. First, we study the diversity, phylogeny and evolution of bees on a global scale. We use genetic data (DNA sequence data) to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of bees and we are constantly refining the bee “tree of life”. Second, we study the biodiversity of wild bees in eastern apple orchards and the role that these wild bees play in apple pollination. We have discovered over 100 species of bees visiting apple blossoms in NY. These bees are abundant in apple orchards in the early spring and they are highly effective pollinators of apples. In fact, a large percentage of the apples consumed in NY are probably pollinated by wild bees rather than domesticated honey bees. We are working closely with apple growers in NY to develop strategies for encouraging native bees in and around their orchards. 

        Do you collaborate with other scientists? Across different disciplines?

        Yes. I collaborate with scientists around the world on studies of bee diversity, phylogeny and evolution. I have close colleagues in Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, and across the US. Bee biologists are incredibly collaborative people, just like the bees they study.

        What will you do when you finish this research/current project/current focus?

        Write a book!

        Describe your lab or favorite workspace indoors or out!

        Arid regions of South Africa – this is where you find some of the most fascinating bees on the planet, including Fidelia, Scrapter, and Patellapis. South Africa hosts some of the most ancient lineages of bees in the world and the fauna there is strikingly different from our North American fauna.

        What is one surprising thing you’d like people to know about bees?

        Bees are incredibly diverse. There are over 20,000 described species, which is five times the number of mammals on earth. Only a small percentage (~6%) of bees are social, and an even smaller percentage (~2%) make honey. The majority of bees are solitary with females constructing their own burrows, provisioning their own offspring, and defending their own nest. Most bees nest in the ground, but there are also stem nesters, cavity nesters, wood nesters, resin-collectors, leaf-cutters, and masons. What distinguishes bees from closely related wasps is that bees are herbivores (consuming pollen and nectar) whereas wasps are predators (mostly consuming other insects).

          Dr. Rodney Dietert’s Slide Set and Links 03/18/15

          Many thanks go to Dr. Rodney Dietert for the March 17th 2015 program on the microbiome. The audience filled the room and enjoyed the opportunity to ask many questions! Attendees also enjoyed some local yogurt courtesy of Ithaca Water Buffalo and Ithaca Milk.

          Dr. Dietert has kindly provided a slide set with links for you.

            What’s Good Ithaca Profiles Science Cabaret 10/19/14

            Please take a look at this beautiful new online magazine that profiles all the good things going on in Ithaca, NY and the region.

            “What’s Good tells stories of good to inspire action and engagement in our community. We highlight people, business, and projects working toward positive change for our environment, our education system, our food system, and other elements of community sustainability, resilience, and happiness.”

            You can subscribe to updates and make sure not to miss a post!

            Read our profile.

            If you have any suggestions for other people, projects, or businesses creating positive change here in the community, please share your ideas with What’s Good through the site at

              Cider Flights at Science Cabaret 10/11/14

              In celebration of Cider Week 2014,  Gavin Sacks, Associate Professor in the Food Science department at Cornell University, and Autumn Stoscheck, owner of Eve’s Cidery  presented a program on the variations in flavor and aroma of hard ciders: “With Malus and Forethought: A Flavor Chemist’s Perspective on Hard Cider”.

              Attendees were able to purchase a flight of four ciders made in the Finger Lakes region:

              1. Bellwether Original (sweet)
              2. Redbyrd Workman Dry (tart)
              3. Eve’s Kingston Black (tannic) Read the recent review.
              4. Eve’s Albee Hill (BSA bitter sweet apple aroma)

              Gavin and Autumn guided tasters in exploring sweet, tart, and tannic tastes; and apple aromas, by using ciders that represented these aspects.

              For the comparisons  we looked at them in the following order:

              • Sweet (Cider 1) vs. Less Sweet / More Sharp (Cider 2)
              • Less Tannin (Cider 1) vs. More Tannin (Cider 3)
              • Apple-like aroma (Cider 1) vs. Cidery/Bittersweet Apple-type aroma (Cider 4)

              In 2013 we held a Science Cabaret program in collaboration with Cider Week FLX and learned about the origins of apples, and the ways in which scientists and growers have worked to both preserve genetic diversity and create new apple varieties for cider making and table use.  Joining us was Thomas Chao, a horticulturalist and the curator of the national clonal germplasm collection of apples, grapes, cherries at the USDA Agriculture Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.

              Read the excellent press on hard cider in the New York Times 9/28/2014: “Sips From a Cider Spree in New York State“.

              TODAY – Saturday, October 11 at 2:58 PM:

              Listen to the recorded Science Cabaret program at 2:58 pm on Saturday, October 11 streaming on and on the radio at 88.1 Ithaca and 91.9 Watkins Glen.




                Science Cabaret Organizers Present a Workshop 07/25/14


                Kitty Gifford and Mark Sarvary, members of Ithaca’s Science Cabaret program recently presented a workshop at the annual meeting of the Association of Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE). The workshop discussed how to start Science Cafés both on- and off-campus, what challenges presenters may face, and what makes a scientific presentation in a science café effective.

                Based upon nine years of experience running the well-established Science Cabaret program in Ithaca, NY, the presenters shared knowledge about using non-traditional venues and platforms to communicate science with general audiences. Participants were eager to learn about the variety of formats in which they can implement informal science communication experiences.

                The workshop also highlighted the large number of collaborations that Science Cabaret has developed with area organizations and institutions and how that has supported informal science communication efforts. These collaborations include: Paleontological Research Institute and Museum of the Earth, the Sciencenter, Sustainable Tompkins, Graduate Women in Science, Cornell University, Ithaca College, the Light in Winter Festival of Science and the Arts, Ask an Astronomer, the Astronomy Grads Network, the international Yuri’s Night, and more…as well as a large number of local musicians and artists.

                Gifford and Sarvary also gave direction on how to implement unique role playing experiences suitable for both classroom environments and public venues. The concept of these role-playing experiences is based on the “reacting to the past” technique started at Bard College. These elaborate scenarios assign historical roles to participants and engage them in a scientific issue based on information known at that time.

                Reacting to the past programs  have been implemented at Ithaca’s Science Cabaret and inspired the development of curriculum at Cornell University where it is being used in the undergraduate Biology program.  The Ithaca Science Cabaret has also provided support for the development of “reacting to the past” curriculum for the Cornell Plantations Environmental Education Program for Sustainability summer program for high school students.

                Dissemination of science to the public is very challenging to many scientists, so the earlier the students face this task, the better science communicators they will become. During the ABLE workshop attendees were given hands-on experience of preparing science café presentations.

                If you would like to learn more about how to establish a science cafe in your school or city, please be in touch!

                  Big Science, Small Problems! 03/26/14

                  Dr. Matthew Ward from the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) talked to us about X-ray absorption spectroscopy, nanostructures,  nanomaterials, and how the Synchrotron works. The audience peppered Dr. Ward with questions about the equipment used, the types of materials he studies, the structure and layout of Cornell’s Synchrotron and more. It was a fascinating evening.

                  And yes, the Synchrotron does conduct public tours! Those interested in touring the Synchrotron facility can contact or phone – Lora Hine or Erik Herman – 607.255.2319.

                  For more information about nano please visit

                  Photo credit: Jay Worley


                    Cornellians Gather to Watch and Discuss Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey 03/26/14

                    Originally Published in the Cornell Daily Sun on March 19, 2014

                    By KATHLEEN BITTER

                    On Sunday night in a lecture hall in the Plant Sciences Building, Cornellians and science lovers alike gathered to watch the second episode of Fox’s revival of the Cosmos series, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and discussed the biology in the episode with Binghamton University graduate student Ben Eisenkop, better known to many as user “Unidan.”

                    Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a follow-up to the 1980 t.v. series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage hosted by former Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomy. The orginal series was written by Sagan, Steven Soter Ph.D. ’71, and Ithacan Ann Druyan, who was Sagan’s wife when he died in 1996.

                    “[The original Cosmos] brought high production values and good storytelling to science and explained, in a compact format, many of the important discoveries brought about using the scientific method,” Jay Worley, a researcher at the Boyce Thompson Institute said. “The new series updates this historic program for a new generation, telling the story of science through its discoveries and the people that study it.” Read the rest of this entry »