Monday, December 8, 2014
The Physics of the Perfect French Fry
Featuring Scott Paulson, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at James Madison University

We’ve been enjoying french fries for centuries, yet they continue to elude home chefs and gourmands alike. Can science explain the art of perfecting this everyday food? Dr. Scott Paulson, french fry-enthusiast and physics and astronomy professor at James Madison University, says yes. During this Science on Tap, Paulson will explore the science behind the seemingly simple act of deep-frying a potato, including important questions such as: What variety of potato works best? Does the type of oil matter? Is fresher better? He will also discuss high-heat vs. low-heat cooking techniques and the reluctant interaction of oil with water, in a quest to uncover the perfect french fry recipe.
View the presentation slides.

Monday, November 10, 2014
Do Cats Make You Crazy?
Featuring Omar Harb, Ph.D., Education and Scientific Outreach manager for the Eukaryotic Pathogen Databases

The 2014 Ig Nobel prize in public health was recently awarded to researchers studying whether owning a cat is mentally hazardous to people. The source of this hazard is not the cat itself but what it can carry: an extremely contagious and ubiquitous parasite calledToxoplasma gondii. This successful parasite can infect almost any warm-blooded animal, hiding in the brain as a cyst. In most people it is thought that the dormant Toxoplasma brain cyst does nothing. However, research suggests that these dormant cysts may actually have neurological consequences. Before you run home and get rid of your cuddly kitten, we will objectively take a look at the research to try and understand if cats really make you crazy.

Monday, October 13, 2014
Thinking Outside the Jar: Exploring the Neurophysiology of Creative Genius
Featuring Seth “Dr. Adventure!” Kane, owner, Lead Fabricator, the New Flesh Workshop

Examination of Albert Einsteins brain, provided by the Mütter Museum under a Wood Fellowship grant, yielded evidence of cell growth up until his death. How did he foster this growth? What about his life and methods led to these changes in physiology? This month’s talk focuses on how joy, imagination and diligent mental exercise contribute to physiological changes in the brain, optimizing it for creativity.

Monday, September 8, 2014
Permaculture Food Forests in the City
Featuring Phil Forsyth, urban orchardist and Director of the Philadelphia Orchard Project

When William Penn created Philadelphia he envisioned a lush American Eden, a “greene country towne.” Today,  Philadelphia is a far cry from that vision, but there is a growing movement to create a healthier, more sustainable city full of green spaces with access to healthy local food.

Phil Forsyth, Philadelphia’s own Johnny Appleseed, has planted dozens of permaculture orchards and edible forests through his work with the Philadelphia Orchard Project. He will discuss permaculture, a design science aimed at creating sustainable regenerative landscapes and communities, and food forests, a permaculture strategy for developing diverse, multi-layered food-producing ecosystems. Phil believes we can we create functioning, diverse environments within the city that that mimic the natural systems within forests. These food forests and orchards bring fresh fruit to Philadelphians, replace vacant lots, bring the community together and help clean the water and air.

Monday, August 11, 2014
Show and Tell

Featuring Bartram’s Garden, Eastern State Penitentiary, Elfreth’s Alley, Free Library of Philadelphia, Independence Seaport Museum, National Liberty Museum, National Constitution Center, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology & Archaeology

How do some of Philadelphia’s great historical and cultural institutions relate to science? Find out at a special format Science on Tap: Show-and-Tell event! Join us as Philadelphia museums bring a piece of their story to National Mechanics to demonstrate to us how their work relates to science.These organizations will present a specific object or idea in flash talk format, giving you a chance to see these establishments in a new scientific light.

Monday, July 14, 2014
Alien-like Catfish
Featuring ichthyologist John Lundberg

Want to know what’s in the water? Ask John Lundberg, PhD, about his recent research. Kryptoglanis shajii is a strange fish—and the closer scientists look, the stranger it gets. This small subterranean catfish sees the light of day and human observers only rarely, when it turns up in springs, wells, and flooded rice paddies in the Western Ghats mountain region of Kerala, India.

Lundberg, one of the world’s leading authorities on catfishes, started taking a closer look at several specimens soon after the catfish’s discovery in 2011. It’s quite puzzling, but it doesn’t seem to fit into the family tree of catfishes.

John Lundberg is an ichthyologist, evolutionary biologist, and systematist. His research mainly concerns fish diversity and diversification using modern and fossil specimens and phenotypic and genetic data. He is drawn to exploration and collecting in poorly known waters and fossiliferous sediments. Lundberg joined the Academy of Natural Sciences as the curator of ichthyology, where he oversaw, grew, and promoted one of the world’s largest and most active research collections of fishes. He retired in 2013 but remains active in research.

Monday, June 9, 2014
The Men Behind the Screens: RCA and the Origins of the LCD
Featuring CHF Research Fellow Ben Gross, PhD

Everyone has heard about liquid crystal displays. These thin electronic screens are found in our televisions, laptops, and smartphones. We rely on them to consume information and communicate with each other.

But what exactly are liquid crystals? Who figured out they could be used in displays? And why did RCA—the company that oversaw their invention—never succeed in commercializing them? In this talk Ben Gross will provide a “behind the screens” tour of the science and history of the LCD.

Ben Gross is a research fellow in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy, where he oversees a variety of projects related to material innovation. He also serves as curator of “Innovations That Changed the World,” an exhibition on RCA’s contributions to the history of electronics at The College of New Jersey. Gross earned a Ph.D. in the history of science from Princeton University and is currently revising his doctoral dissertation on the development of the LCD for publication.

Monday, May 12, 2014
Some Questions to Ask Ben Franklin

Featuring  professor and APS Executive Officer Keith Thomson

Benjamin Franklin’s most famous experiment supposedly involved a kite and a key. But what was it for? Did he actually do it? In fact, could he have done it? Alternatively, why are some authors so keen to suggest it is all a fake?
Keith Thomson is Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society and Professor Emeritus of natural history at the University of Oxford. He previously taught for many years at Yale and was President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He is the author of 12 books including The Young Charles Darwin (2009) and Jefferson’s Shadow: the Story of his Science (2012).

Monday, April 14, 2014
Culturing Food: History, Health and Fermentation
by Adam D. Zolkover

What do The Epic of Gilgamesh, James Cook’s Voyage Toward the South Pole and Round the World, the dairies of Gruyères Switzerland, and our speaker’s home kitchen all have in common?  Fermentation!

We can define fermentation as a biological process:  as the metabolization of sugars by yeasts, bacteria, and sometimes our own cells, into gases, acids, and alcohol.  For denizens of the microbial world, it’s a matter of eat, then excrete.  But for humans, fermentation is a cultural process.  Bread, beer, dairy, pickles, and preserved meats have all been key ingredients in the success of agricultural, sedentary, urban societies.  And they have all been essential to long voyages of exploration.

This talk explores the intermingling of science and history in the kitchen.  And it explores some of the practical aspects of fermentation for home cooks today.

Adam D. Zolkover is a folklorist, freelance writer, and food blogger living in Philadelphia, PA.  He serves as editor of the Institute for Civility in Government’s online initiative — The Civility Blog — and teaches courses in folklore, literature, and popular culture at Philadelphia University, Temple University, and The University of Pennsylvania.  He has run workshops on fermentation and lacto-pickling for the Mount Airy Learning Tree.  And he is owner and proprietor of, where he writes about food culture, sustainable cooking, and the preparation and consumption of all manners of delicious fermented things.

MONDAY, March 10, 2014
Rare Earth Metals: iPhones to Alien Life
Featuring Dr. Eric Schelter, Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania

Banished to the bottom of the periodic table, the rare earth metals are rarely discussed, exotic curiosities. Yet these metals are hidden throughout our daily lives, enabling internet communication, harvesting wind energy, and illuminating our existence. We’ll discuss the intersection of the metals with clean energy and the dark side of their exploitative mining and processing. From magnets to volcanic mudpots, rare earth metals inspire and amaze.

Eric Schelter is an assistant professor of chemistry at Penn. His area of specialty is f-block chemistry, and his work currently focuses on the chemistry of rare earth elements. 

Monday, February 10, 2014
Next Generation Paleontology
Featuring Ken Lacovara, PhD, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science, Drexel University

 According to Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, “technology in paleontology hasn’t     changed much in about 150 years. We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed—until right now.”

Lacovara and a team of researchers at Drexel University are bringing the latest technological advancements in 3-D scanning and printing to the study of ancient life. Using scale models of real fossils, for the first time they will be able to test hypotheses about how dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals moved and lived in their environments.

 Ken Lacovara, associate professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science at Drexel University, focuses on Mesozoic Era paleoenvironments that contain the remains of dinosaurs and other vertebrates.  He co-authored descriptions of two new dinosaurs (Paralititan and Suzhousaurus) and is about to unveil the remains of a new giant, a 70-ton titanosaur from Patagonia.

Monday, January 13, 2014
“What’s the Matter with the Higgs Bozon”
Featuring Dave Goldberg, PhD, Professor, Department of Physics, Drexel University

The Higgs boson is one of the biggest, most influential discoveries of the last decade, important enough that it resulted in an almost instant Nobel prize.  But what’s it all about? How does it work? And what does it mean for a particle to “create mass”? If you’ve been feeling confused at cocktail parties, Dave Goldberg will give you a half hour primer on how the universe works to set you straight.

Dave Goldberg is a theoretical cosmologist and professor of Physics at Drexel University.  He is the author, most recently, of “The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality.” Dr. Goldberg is interested in the interface between science and pop culture and is especially prone to nerdly excess of sci-fi references.  He writes a regular “Ask a Physicist” column for, has been featured on WNYC’s Studio 360, The Leonard Lopate Show, WHYY’s NewsWorks Tonight and has contributed to Slate, Wired & the L.A. Times.