Topeka’s new Science Café offers free, expert knowledge.

Linnzi Fusco Washburn Review

Topeka now has its own Science Café, which offers a place for the community to learn something new about science and it’s free of charge. The group held its first meeting February 19 at the Lazy Toad located at 5331 SW 22nd Pl#2.

The Science Café is a nationally occurring trend – there are cities participating across the nation in their own Science Café groups. The idea is to have a new speaker at each meeting who gives a short introduction to a science related topic, followed by an open discussion and the opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

Brian Thomas, a founder of Topeka’s Science Café, has known about Science Café groups for a while and was interested in getting one started. He is also an associate professor in physics and astronomy at Washburn University. 

“This is the first one in Topeka,” said Thomas. “There’s been a regular one in Johnson County for a long time, recently in Manhattan and Wichita, so we decided that we didn’t want to be left behind and a few of us decided we would get one going here.,” said Thomas.

Thomas wants the Cafe to transcend Washburn University’s campus and become something bigger for the whole community.

”The basic concept is to bring science out of the university, to have it in a public place in a casual kind of environment where people can come, have a beer and talk about some interesting ideas with an expert,” said Thomas.

At their first meeting, community members gathered to listen as speaker Rodrigo Mercader,, assistant professor of biology at WU, gave a talk about the emerald ash borer.

Mercader is an assistant professor of biology at Washburn University. He studies how plants and insects evolve and how plants defend themselves against insects attacking them. This translates to study of invasive plant-feeding insect species like the emerald ash borer. 

The emerald ash borer is a small beetle that came to America in the mid 90s from Asia. It was first detected in 2002 and has spreadkilling millions of ash trees and causing massive devastation and millions of dollars in damage.

Mercader has been teaching at Washburn for a year and a half and has taught a variety of classes such as ecology, entomology, zoology, evolution, field biology, cell biology lab and seminar.

“I do work that goes from the basic to the applied,” said Mercader. “I like to make work that is relevant so that’s why I tend to work on those things and then I get side tracked and work on the evolution of the butterfly.”

The event at Lazy Toad was Mercader’s first Science Café talk but there’s a possibility he may be speaking for the group again on another topic, such as butterfly evolution.

“I roped him into giving our first presentation because I knew he would do an awesome job and I wanted someone from Washburn,” said Thomas.

The Science Café will meet every third Tuesday of the month at locations to be announced via the group’s Facebook page. Since it is a new group, there are still details being worked out.

“We are looking at possibly having someone from the amateur astronomy club in town talk about asteroids,” said Thomas.

The Science Café sessions are free and open to the public and give science professionals an opportunity to get information out and for the public to participate and interact.

“One of the cool things it’s doing is making sure that experts have plenty of places to meet and talk about things. We don’t often communicate to the rest of the world what we actually do,” said Mercader.

Thomas said he didn’t quite know what to expect for their first session but he was happy with the number of people who attended.

“The idea is really to have everybody who is interested come, you don’t have to have a science background you don’t have to be an expert or anything like that, please come learn something new and ask some questions,” said Thomas.

 For more information visit their Facebook page at, and their website,