Over 70 people from throughout Rutland County and beyond gathered at the Fair Haven Inn last Sunday for a presentation followed by a lively discussion with a local scientist. It was the first of five Science Pub Sundays, with the next scheduled for 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Brandon Inn.

Jean-Sebastian Gagnon, assistant professor of physics at Norwich University, shared the latest developments in “Search for Life in the Universe” on the origins of life on Earth, the Big Bang and the likelihood of other lifeforms.

In a banquet room filled with Christmas lights and decorations, Gagnon confidently led the discussion under an electronically star-lit sky. While enjoying their drinks, the attendees were totally focused on the French-accented scientist with a passion for astro-physics.

Gagnon took pride in his engagement with members of the community.

“As a scientist, you have a duty to inform people and to use your experience and knowledge to communicate,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon explained that the solar system formed roughly 5 billion years ago from a large cloud of gas or nebula made up of hydrogen.

“If you contract enough, the temperature and density will go up enough to make nuclear fission happen naturally,” Gagnon said. “Then wait 500 million years and you get fully formed planets.”

Despite some technical difficulties attempting to reproduce a hissing, white-sound noise that resulted in laughter, the audience members were nodding their heads in appreciation and acknowledgement.

Edward Connolly, a freelance journalist from Hampton, New York, who participated in the lively Q&A session at the conclusion of the slideshow presentation, said his favorite part was “the way he (Gagnon) presented the expansion in steps or phases in the Big Bang.”

Diane Alberts, of Rutland, has attended Science Pub for a couple of years, and is intrigued to listen to discussions in most subjects.

“I get depressed about anything about global warming,” Alberts said, while drinking her Pinot Grigio, and suggested a new Science Pub topic.

“I’m concerned about ticks, and what we can do about them,” she said. “How to combat the problem, if that’s possible.”

Martha Molnar, who coordinates Science Pub, said attendees often suggest topics, and if she can find an expert in the subject, these often turn out to be the most popular ones.

“Science Pub” is sponsored by the Friends of Castleton Free Library. It was launched with just 35 people in attendance, and has grown to as many as 170. It’s designed to create community in addition to sharing information and enhancing interest in science.

Normandie Keller, the president of the organization, felt a sense of achievement by helping orchestrate the event.

“It’s nice to be able to give back,” said Keller, who also mentioned other efforts that the organization coordinates, such as fundraising, book nooks in town and events from ice cream socials to maple celebrations.

The next “Science Pub” is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at Brandon Inn. Castleton University Associate Professor of Biology Preston Garcia will lead the discussion about why being “too clean” is not good for our health. Everyone is invited to the free event to learn, enjoy a drink or dinner and meet new people.

For more information, email mlmolnar3@gmail.com to contact Martha Molnar.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a partnership in which Castleton University student journalists are teaming with University of Vermont students to provide news stories for local papers. The program is funded by a grant through UVM.

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