Davis Science Café Creates Conversations Between Community and Researchers
- Created over 10 years ago by Professor of Chemistry Jared Shaw, the Davis Science Café provides an avenue for the community to learn about the current state of science across its many disciplines.
- The meetings are held on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at G Street WunderBar in Davis.
- Learn more about the Davis Science Café here.
On a quiet Wednesday evening, an unassuming group gathered at G Street WunderBar in Davis, California. Seats filled as a nail-biting Sacramento Kings basketball game played on the TV screens. But the majority of people in the bar weren’t there to watch the game. They were there to learn about matters of the heart.
“In cardiovascular medicine, what we’re focused on is the prevention, the diagnosis and the treatment of diseases of the heart and the vascular system,” said Dr. Amparo Villablanca, a UC Davis professor of cardiovascular medicine and the founding director of the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Program. “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and for women, and in fact, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease [in women] outpace those in men...so cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death.”
Despite the statistic noted by Villablanca, only about 56% of women realize heart disease is their leading killer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And that’s why Villablanca stood center stage at G Street WunderBar: to raise awareness about the often-unsung risk of heart disease in women, to serve as a model of the importance of diverse voices in science, and to show how research from women is essential to enhancing scientific discourse and progressing research.
Welcome to the Davis Science Café, a modern-day version of the intellectual salons of the past where science and the community meet face-to-face for a conversation. Created over 10 years ago by Professor of Chemistry Jared Shaw, the Davis Science Café meets on the second Wednesday of each month to provide an avenue for the community to learn about the current state of science across its many disciplines.
“If you like hearing about science, short of going to class, there aren’t a lot of options,” said Shaw when asked about the necessity of events like the Davis Science Café. “This is the live event, the live show, if you want to go and enjoy science.”
“The person speaking is not delivering a lecture,” he added. “It’s a conversation. People can participate in the dialogue.”
Engaging the public for 10+ years
The impetus to launch the Davis Science Café stemmed from Shaw’s desire to increase science literacy in the public sphere. Initially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the series went through several iterations, being held at various venues before finding a permanent home at G Street WunderBar.
“It’s been awesome to see the growth of the café,” said Shaw, who hosted the first Davis Science Café at the UC Davis Arboretum in the fall of 2010. “Every once in a while, even at G Street, we’ll hit capacity. About 100, or sometimes more than 100 people, will show up for a science café.”
According to Shaw, the ambiance of a communal space, like a bar, is imperative to the success of the Davis Science Café. The speakers, the space and the proximity all add up to an effective alchemy geared toward creating a better-informed populace.
“I think the best way to do that is to create a fun event that people want to come to and learn some new science,” Shaw said. “We have lots of scientific misinformation circulating and science cafés can play a small part in helping people become more scientifically literate.”
And the events are resonating with the local community.
Davis resident Kelly Fung-Chen, who’s attended the Davis Science Café for years, praised the event series for promoting accessible science to the general public.
“Our country really needs some strong, factual scientific knowledge,” she said.
“I like to learn and this offers an opportunity to do that,” added Davis resident Cindy Schneider. “It’s interesting to hear what the university is doing and what research is going on.”
While there’s no proverbial “run of show” for Davis Science Cafés, the events do follow a typical trajectory. The speaker introduces the topic, dives into their career background and then discusses some of their relevant research. All the while, attendees are encouraged to chime in with their questions.
“You can expect the speaker to answer questions on detailed science but then also on the bigger picture as to why what they’re doing is important,” Shaw said.
Commenting on Villablanca’s talk, Shaw said, “There’s a lot of scientific topics that touch on social issues and this is going to be one of those. You know, heart health doesn’t hit equally across genders or races, and so some of what she’s talking about that is pure science or pure clinical research has social implications.”
Matters of the heart
As Villablanca discussed her research and career in the health sciences, the audience at G Street WunderBar peppered her with questions. Shaw moved about the room, bringing a microphone to attendees with inquisitive minds. One such attendee was Davis resident Susan Cordier, who recounted her experience with heart disease.
“I had regular cholesterol and regular blood pressure and shortness of breath, and the doctor didn’t believe it,” she said. “I ended up having open-heart surgery, so I’m curious, what is going on in the education of physicians to recognize the symptoms in women and believe them?”
“Unfortunately, your story is one I hear too often as a director of a women’s heart program,” Villablanca replied.
According to Villablanca, the medical profession has predominantly operated off the male model of disease. This has contributed to gaps in knowledge and thus gaps in care for women and health disparities.
“The way we move away from that is to recognize that women are not small men and are not presenting in an ‘atypical’ way,” Villablanca said. “Women are presenting in a female-specific way.”
Even heart attack symptoms differ between women and men.
“In men, usually, chest discomfort will be more severe like the elephant sitting on your chest, more typically going to the left arm, down the left arm to the neck or the shoulder,” Villablanca said of heart attack symptoms in men. “In women, the symptoms can be described more as a discomfort, plus the symptom can more commonly radiate below the left breast, down into the upper abdomen, or between the shoulder blades. So pain going straight back sometimes gets misinterpreted as back pain when it may be cardiac pain and not back pain.”
Using the National Science Foundation’s convergence science approach, Villablanca and her colleagues are working to build a more comprehensive view of women’s cardiovascular health, unifying concepts from basic science and behavioral health to machine learning and molecular medicine.
“If we understand the differences at the molecular level, imaging level, functional level, pathway level, all the levels of what’s regulating processes in the cell ultimately leading to disease risk, that may have implications for different therapies,” Villablanca said. “This is part of precision medicine where we’re really not treating everybody the same, but we’re understanding how we’re different and applying that to therapy.”
To learn more about Villablanca’s research, visit her profile on the UC Davis Health website.
The next Davis Science Café is scheduled for March 8. Learn more here.