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Café Scientifique

The sound of munching chips, tasting tacos and sipping margaritas forms a melodic background to a slideshow picture of blood splatters. It’s not the usual dinner chat, or the typical classroom, but the learning that takes place is immeasurable. Café Scientifique mixes the conversation one might have over a drink with lessons usually reserved for museums or biology class.

The Science Center of Iowa hosts the program for free as an informal option for adults to learn about something scientific and applicable to regular life. Programs are held once a month and open to the general public. For those not versed in the sciences, no background is needed, just an interest in the topic.

On Tuesday night the Science Center of Iowa once again offered an interesting learning opportunity at the downtown Des Moines Dos Rios Cantina. Held in the back reservation room, an audience of all ages crowded in to learn first-hand from a criminologist about what it’s like to work the “real-life” CSI. Amy Pollpeter presented on the DNA department of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Content of the presentations is focused for ages of young adults and older. However, some of the most vivacious and inquisitive attendees are young children. Questions are encouraged and speakers answer with passion and internal knowledge.

At Tuesday’s Café Scientifique many questions were asked on the differences between the much less glamorous crime scene investigators in comparison to the popular television show. The audience learned that the DCI lab employs civilians that in fact do not carry guns or take crime scene photos on cell phones.

Types of crimes actually investigated are usually different from the high profile cases shown on television. Eighty percent of all cases involve sexual assault and a large amount of time is spent tracking down the suspects.

Pollpeter received quite a few laughs with stories about her daily work on DNA.

“I’m glad that none of the fingerprint lab employees showed up. They like to call it ‘darn near absolute.’”

Speakers also like to share interesting experiences that others might not typically see. Pollpeter told the tale of a criminal case where the burglar’s shoes were pulled out of the evidence bag only to reveal they were tagged with the DNA label testing from a previous crime.

Previous presenters have included Pioneer soybean geneticists on hybrid planting and Drake professor, Charles Nelson, on black holes.

Don’t miss the next Café Scientifique in April. Look for more information to come. Because the program can fill up quickly, RSVPs are encouraged at scientifique@sciowa.org.

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