Rekindling Curiosity with a Cosmic Cafe

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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

Rekindling Curiosity with a Cosmic Cafe

“Don’t fear the mystery!”


Noah Mitchell, Past SPS Chapter President, and Colby Smith, SPS Chapter Vice President, Abilene Christian University


The ACU SPS chapter’s first Cosmic Cafe in three years is a roaring success. Photo courtesy of Rinni Finley.

Our SPS chapter at Abilene Christian University (ACU), like many others, has faced some hardships over the last few years. SPS meetings wound down to a couple of cabinet members, nothing more. But our recent Cosmic Cafe reminded us that our chapter can put on fantastic events that engage our members and campus community.

In the past, we've held Cosmic Cafes at a local coffee shop. There, an invited speaker talked to students and the local community about
a physics topic, and usually research and internship opportunities as well. But with the closure of our local coffee shop, followed by the pandemic, our chapter hadn’t held a Cafe for some time. In the 2021–22 school year, we made it our mission to start hosting this event again. 

It is safe to say that this Cosmic Cafe did not want to come to fruition. We had issues booking a location and juggling the logistics of drinks and snacks since we weren’t in our usual spot. We ended up hosting the event in our school library, which has quite a different atmosphere from the coffee shop. But we made our own atmosphere!


There’s nothing like enjoying a good cup of coffee during a good physics talk. Photo courtesy of Rinni Finley.

The day arrived, and what we thought would be a casual physics talk started. Dr. Jim Drachenberg, a professor at ACU, talked about what physicists do and how they go about trying to understand the confusing world of physics. He discussed work he had done at Brookhaven National Lab, specifically at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). Dr. Drachenberg then talked quite a bit about spin, keeping it light enough for undergraduates to grasp. 

This seemed like a talk Dr. Drachenberg had given many times before, but about halfway through it took an unexpected turn. Most speakers explain as much as possible in their allotted time. Dr. Drachenberg was different. He came to a slide asking us, the audience, why spin mattered. He invited us to think past the how and into the why. And to be honest, no one had any idea how to answer the question. 

Dr. Drachenberg continued by asking us why the stars matter, why we matter, and why the arts matter. The audience was enthralled as he kept going at a breakneck pace, talking about things seemingly far from the sciences. It was thrilling. Then he asked us again why studying spin matters. His answer? It’s the same reason we look at the stars. Spin elicits wonder, and is worthy of studying for the sake of studying. “The world is pretty surreal down there,” Dr. Drachenberg said, “but don’t fear the mystery!” There is something beautiful about studying these awe-inspiring objects and concepts in our universe.

While we have hosted Cosmic Cafes in the past, and will continue to host them in the future, there was something different and important about this event. The audience could feel this, thanking Dr. Drachenberg with a standing ovation. It felt like we had relit the embers of our club. We had rekindled a love for discovery. And we had most certainly returned to the roots of what made our chapter of SPS our own.


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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action