Lectures bring together amateur, professional science communities

Friday, October 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:59 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The human brain is three times larger than a chimp’s.

David Geary, an MU professor of psychological sciences, turned a graduate-level lecture on the origin of the mind into a session for the general public.

In the first of two lectures he discussed the factors contributing to the evolution of human and animal brain size over time.

Geary was the sixth MU professor this semester to lead Saturday Morning Science, a weekly program created in 2003 to bring the professional and the amateur science communities together.

Wouter Montfrooij, an assistant professor in the physics department, launched the lecture series at MU after attending a similar program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He said he wanted to broaden the physics-focused program there to include a range of science subjects.

MU’s program, co-sponsored by the Office of Research, the physics and astronomy department, the biochemistry department and the new Life Sciences Center, is suggested for all ages but tends to draw a student audience.

“We have a good response from high school students,” Montfrooij said, explaining that the audience tends to be mostly 18-year-olds and people older than 60. “Science still has a long way to come competing for students, but when high school students come here, we think we’re doing a good job.”

The program, which continues every Saturday through Dec. 10, provides an opportunity for the public to attend a free science class while letting professors address the subjects they know best. Topics covered this year include globing warming, genetics, the use of fuel cells as an energy source and the phenomenon of plant mating.

Geary will continue the two-part discussion of the brain’s evolution at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, when he will turn his focus to awareness, consciousness and intelligence.

Catherine DiPietre, a Columbia resident who is a senior at Helias High School in Jefferson City, said she did not mind not understanding everything Geary discussed.

“That’s what makes it interesting,” she said. “I’ll come back next week.”

DiPietre’s science teacher, Matt Zeitz, offers extra credit for attending Saturday Morning Science.

“I tell them to go to get them on a college campus, to expose them to different career options and to introduce them to brilliant professors,” Zeitz, a physics and pre-calculus teacher, said.

Montfrooij organizes the lectures with Bruce McClure, an associate professor of biochemistry and the associate director of the Life Sciences Center. He said that high school students are his favorite audience because they gain a thorough introduction to a scientific field.

“The goals are to have fun, to bring people from off-campus here, to make the university more accessible and to give the faculty a venue to represent their work to the public,” he said.

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