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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Tipsy Astrophysics: Sudwerk Brewery’s Astronomy on Tap

UC Davis students behind Davis’s AoT chapter discuss the organization’s mission and what community members can expect at monthly presentations


By MONICA ROBERTS — features@theaggie.org


Physics majors and astronomy lovers alike are gathering at Sudwerk Brewery Co. every third Thursday of the month for a chance to crack open a cold beer and learn about the stars.

Astronomy on Tap (AoT), an organization founded by Yale researcher Meg Schwamb and astronomer Emily Rice, began hosting events in 2013 in New Haven, CT and has been a boozy staple for astrophysics students ever since. 

Since then, AoT has expanded across the country and even to four different continents

“There is a [astronomy on tap] chapter almost anywhere with an Astronomy department,” Bolan said.

Victoria Strait, a UC Davis alumni and astrophysics researcher, opened Davis’s very own chapter of AoT at  Sudwerk Brewery Co in 2018, according to fourth-year UC Davis astrophysics grad students Pratik Gandhi and Patty Bolan.

AoT at Sudwerk grants customers a free astronomy lecture with their beer, but drinking isn’t required. Sudwerk Brewery is an all-ages venue and welcomes curious minds — no matter how young or old — to come and learn about our planet and beyond. 

Both Gandhi and Bolan help organize Davis AoT events and introduce guest speakers as MCs. They also keep audiences engaged during event intermissions with a donation-based raffle and free-for-all trivia.

“When you have that age range from kids to people in their 60s to 70s, it is hard to find that common ground,” Gandhi said. “Sometimes we will have talks that are geared toward understanding everyday phenomena such as phases of the moon, but other talks are going to be [about] Starlink [or other things] that can affect all of us in the future,” Gandhi said. 

According to Gandhi and Bolan, the majority of guest speakers at Davis Aot events are associated with the Physics and Astronomy Department at UC Davis.

While the two joked that they have pretty much hosted every UC Davis astronomy and physics professor as speakers, there is no degree requirement to speak at AoT. People of all experience levels are welcome to share their interests in astronomy. 

“Typically a lot of the topics are about people’s personal research, but people are allowed to talk about whatever they’re interested in,” Gandhi said. “Often, people [present their research] because it’s the easiest thing to talk about and something they know very well.” 

Second-year UC Davis astrophysics grad student Kelsey Glazer said that AoT is a more digestible way for people to learn about astronomy. 

“I think that astronomy is meant for everybody,” Glazer said. “We may be stuck in our labs with our heads pointed to the sky, but it’s nothing if we can’t share it with others and get other people excited about it too. […] That’s really what science is; It’s the sharing of studies and thoughts with other people in whatever setting you can.”

Although the crowd is typically older — Gandhi said that many are usually retirees — not all audience members are experienced in astronomy. Michael Spiegel, a third-year condensed matter physics graduate student, said that he wished more astronomy beginners felt comfortable coming to AoT events, since their goal is to teach the science in a more laid-back and approachable way.

“The thing about astrophysics and astronomy is that it’s super relatable,” Spiegel said. “There are always profound applications of topics like extraterrestrial lives and black holes. It always stays interesting.” 

UC Davis undergraduate students have also spoken at AoT events at Sudwerk. Chloe Neufeld, a fourth-year astrophysics major, presented for the first time on April 21 of this year, delivering her research on early galaxies to the crowd. Neufeld said that the non-formal setting of AoT made her first in-person presentation easier. 

“This was a lot of fun because it was less serious and more laid back and I could talk about what made me excited specifically about the field rather than going super deep into the science behind it,” Neufeld said. 

Daniel Polin, a fifth-year astrophysics graduate student, added that the unexpected setting brought in a broader crowd that can benefit from the information presented. 

Polin’s work heavily focuses on astronomical cameras such as the LSST camera (now called the Rubin Observatory, according to Polin) and Starlink’s impact. 

“I want to raise awareness about Starlink and what it’s going to mean for astronomy,” Polin said. “I don’t feel enough people are paying attention to it. I think we are boiling the frog by slowly adding more satellites in the sky and 10 years from now, it’s going to be a pool of lights. People don’t realize that is happening.” 

Ultimately, the students behind Davis’s AoT chapter said that their goal is to provide an opportunity for the Davis community to learn about astronomy in an understandable yet meaningful way. 

“With all the anti-science movements and societal attitudes about whether people should trust scientists and if they have a hidden agenda, It’s a way of showing people that there are people doing really cool research, there are people doing really important research, and that it’s something that you can trust,” Gandhi said. 


Written by: Monica Roberts — features@theaggie.org



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