As Dubai resident Rohan Roberts launches Café Scientifique, a group for the Middle East’s most inquisitive grown ups, Mark Griffiths meets the school teacher and quizzes him for more information on the concept
Like it or not, science carries a stigma. Utter the words chemistry, biology or physics and for most people they will conjure up images of broken-spectacle-wearing boffins in lab coats.
All that is about to change thanks to Café Scientifique – a group that allows coffee and chemistry to mix, with no mention of the periodic table.
‘It’s a club where, for the price of a cup of coffee, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology,’ explains founder and Dubai school teacher Rohan Roberts. ‘The idea is to talk science, but outside of an academic setting.’
Held at Café Lila – a spacious coffee stop in TECOM – on the last Friday of each month, Café Scientifique Dubai is the first group within this popular international concept to be based here in the Middle East.
The first Café Scientifique meeting took place in Leeds in the UK in 1998, its DNA spreading around the world with new branches rapidly born.
‘Everything we see around us is the product of science,’ adds Roberts. ‘Technology is growing at an exponential rate but for most people, the last time they engaged with science was in high school.’
Recognising that many adults today are intimidated by science, Roberts and his co-founder Raya Bidshahri got their heads together.
‘We wanted to share the thrill we feel about science, technology and critical thinking with others in Dubai, says Roberts. ‘Reaching out not just to like-minded people but also to those who have a curious mind and a desire to learn more about how the world around us works.’
Having always wanted to experience the reality of a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moment myself, it came as a nice surprise to hear that Roberts and Bidshahri are on the hunt for people just like me – people whose everyday wonderings begin with, ‘This may sound like a dumb question, but…’
Their concept has attracted interest from across the emirates – including Ajman and Abu Dhabi. People have made the journey to discuss topics including ‘The Edge of the Universe’, ‘Extinction and New Species’ and ‘Success and Limitations of the Scientific Method’.
According to Roberts, the concept is ‘a great way to engage’ with some important scientific issues of our time that will have an impact not just on our own lives but also on the future of our species.
‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a science nerd or a novice,’ explains Roberts. ‘Our events are for everybody and there’s a very friendly vibe within the group. Those who have a deeper understanding of a subject [read, know-it-all] can share their expert knowledge. Sessions begin with a 20-minute introduction followed by a quick coffee break and a further discussion. The next event, scheduled for Friday May 31, entitled ‘Human Brain-to-Brain Interface’, will focus on recent experiments linking rat brains via the internet. ‘It’s only a matter of time before human brains link up directly in cyberspace. We’ll be discussing this, the meaning of consciousness, and the consequences of uploading the mind and storing it digitally,’ Roberts says.
Next steps for Café Scientifique include bringing celebrity scientists – you heard it here first – to the region, with ambitious plans floating for an annual science festival to take place here in the UAE.
‘Science is more than just a body of knowledge – it’s a way of thinking. And when you see the world through a scientifically literate lens, the world is an exciting place – a place free from superstition, pseudo-science, and mumbo-jumbo.’ Free. Café Scientifique meets 5pm-6.30pm on Friday May 31. Lila Cafe, MCN building, opposite Ramee Rose Hotel, TECOM, www.cafescidubai.com (04 454 3064).
Three more quirky community clubs
Xtreme Ninjutsu Lovers of this varied cardio workout meet up to practice Ninjutsu moves that include stealth and evasion, tricks and acrobatics, crouches, crawls and rolls. Fri-Sat, timings vary. JBR Beach, www.meetup.com/xninjutsu (050 532 2774).
Dubai Lego Robot makers This club is always on the look out to meet new people who like to build things, from Lego mindstorms, robotics and Arduino microcontrollers to open-source 3D printers and beyond. Friday June 1, from 7pm. Chili’s restaurant, Mall of the Emirates, (056 655 8568).
Alternative Minds Group Meet like-minded people and exchange experiences in reiki, The Bowen Technique, hypnotherapy, reflexology, yoga, life coaching, crystal healing, soul medicine, massage, angel therapy and much more. Various locations, www.meetup.com/alternative-minds (050 856 2285).