Dr. Dave Westenberg (right) speaks during the first Research on Tap social hour at Public House Brewing Company in Rolla.

Tapping into research

Feb. 10, 2017 by Greg Katski

It was a thirst for knowledge, and locally brewed beer, that drew a crowd to the first Research on Tap on Wednesday, Feb. 8.  

“Research on Tap” is a new monthly event at Public House Brewing Company in Rolla that lets Missouri S&T researchers, particularly in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business (CASB), share their latest research and news and promote events. The social hour is held at 6:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of every month in the upstairs loft at the brewery. The event is the brainchild of Nikki Gomez, master’s student in biological sciences and secretary of CASB’s Graduate Student Leadership Council (GSLC). The event is organized and sponsored by the GSLC.

Gomez says she wanted to create a forum for S&T students, faculty and staff, as well as area residents to learn about research going on in the college and at the university. She says that it’s not easy for the public to get on campus and hear a lecture or research presentation, and that Research on Tap provides a casual setting for people to learn and ask questions of researchers over a pint.

The first Research on Tap welcomed Dr. Dave Westenberg, professor and interim chair of biological sciences at S&T, and Frank Marshall, a Ph.D. student in chemistry.

Before the event began, Westenberg scattered stuffed microbe toys across the upstairs loft tables. As attendees found their seats at various tables, they were greeted by these “giant microbes”: cholera and chlamydia, the stomach bug and salmonella and, appropriate to the venue and time of year, yeast (affectionately called “Beer and Bread”) and the “kissing disease,” otherwise known as mononucleosis.

Westenberg introduced himself by saying he had brought his own audience in case no one showed up for his presentation. “I have the yeast family – gigantic, giant and mini giant yeast,” he says while holding up three plush microbes.

“I’m also just getting over some kind of infection. I wasn’t quite sure, but I think it was just a cold,” Westenberg says, holding up a common cold plush microbe.

“I was worried though, because maybe it was the flu,” he says, holding up a flu microbe.

“But I was really worried that it might be the swine flu,” he says, showing off a pink colored flu microbe as attendees laughed with approval. 

To give an idea of the wide variety of bacteria on our planet, often from the same genus, Westenberg asked one of the attendees with a streptococcus microbe to hold it up. He then asked if anyone else in attendance had a streptococcus microbe. Two other attendees held their plush toys up.

He explained that these were three different types of streptococcus bacteria – one that could give you a sore throat, one that would give you pneumonia, and one that was flesh-eating.

“You can go anywhere from a sore throat, to pneumonia, to flesh-eating, all in the same bacteria,” he says. “Same organism, very different diseases.”

Once Westenberg had concluded his demonstration, Marshall took the floor to talk about the Mars Rover Design Team, of which he is a member. He gave a brief history of the team and fielded questions about its upcoming competitions.

When Marshall wrapped up his presentation, Westenberg invited interested attendees to play a BioBuilder game that looked at the ethics of synthetic biology.

About 25 people attended the first Research on Tap, a number that Gomez was happy with. She would like to see attendance for the event gradually grow to the point that she has to move it to Public House in St. James to fit everyone.

The next Research on Tap will be held March 8 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Larry Gragg, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of history, is scheduled to speak about the university’s upcoming sesquicentennial, or 150-year anniversary. Gragg is writing a history book of the university to be published during the sesquicentennial.