Joselyn McDondald
Joselyn McDonald



A monthly event in which we explore interesting, novel aspects of science communication in an informal setting.

What is SciComm Lunch-and-Learn?

SciComm Lunch-and-Learn is a monthly event in which we explore interesting, novel aspects of science communication in an informal setting. These are not lectures, but rather discussions with invited presenters who are doing interesting work, asking important research questions or pushing boundaries in some realm of science communication. Presenters are encouraged to spend no more than 15-30 minutes on any sort of formal presentation, leaving the remainder of the hour for audience interaction and Q&A, so please come prepared to ask questions and share your own thoughts and perspectives.

Who does it serve?

While these were previously held as face-to-face events here at Duke University, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to pivot to an online/webinar format. The “silver lining” to this is that SciComm Lunch-and-Learn events are now open to anyone, anywhere in the world, who is interested in hearing about, and discussing interesting aspects of science communication and its relevance to the role of science in society.

Where and when is it held?

These events will be held once per month during the academic year (September through May) from noon to 1:00 PM EST. The date varies, depending on the availability of our desired presenters. Please see below for a list of upcoming and past events.

Do I Need to Register/RSVP?

Participation is free, but we ask you to register in advance so we can have an accurate headcount and to prevent “Zoom bombers”.

Why do you call it “Lunch-and-Learn” if it is an online event?

In the pre-pandemic era, we provided pizza to all attendees. Unfortunately, our budget prevents us from delivering pizza all over the world, but you are encouraged to BYOL. If you are in an earlier time zone, please feel free to think of this as “Brunch-and-Learn”.


Upcoming Events in 2020

From Lab Rats to Leader: Communicating Science in the Museum Setting

November 12th, 12:00 to 1:00 PM EST

Science museums attract over 120 million visitors every year and consistently rank among the most trusted sources of science information in public opinion surveys.  Simply put, if you want to communicate science to large, receptive audiences, a science museum is one of the best places to do it.  In our November SciComm Lunch-and-Learn we’ll hear from Dr. Holly Menninger – a scientist and science communicator who is currently the Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis.  She’ll share a few stories about how her past sci comm experiences have informed her approach to museum work, particularly now during the time of COVID, and answer your questions about communicating science in the museum setting.

An entomologist by training, Dr. Holly Menninger has been a science communicator by passion and practice for over 20 years. With experience in science policy, natural resource management, media, higher education, and museums, she’s communicated science (or helped others communicate their science) to many different audiences in many different formats and venues. Dr. Menninger is currently the Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning at the Bell Museum, Minnesota’s state natural history museum and part of the University of Minnesota. There she leads the museum’s interpretive efforts, including exhibits, the planetarium, and K-12 and public programs.


Holly Menninger, Ph.D. (Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning, Bell Museum, University of Minnesota)


RSVP & More Info


Past Events

Listen To Your Gut: Engaging the Public with Science and Sound

October 14th, 12:00 to 1:00 PM EST

Connecting science to the public is an important task that scientists are asked to do more and more. It can range from the classic science café or rehearsed TED talk to the interactive museum demo. In this Lunch & Learn, join Dr. Erin McKenney and artist, Jude Casseday, to learn how they engage the public with science and sound. Together, they have collaborated to transform Dr. McKenney’s microbiome research examining the microbes in your gut and the microbes in sourdough bread into experiential soundscapes-the listener can HEAR the changes in the data! Join us to learn about new and creative ways to engage in STEAM, bringing the arts and sciences together to interact with the public!

Dr. Erin McKenney studies how microbial communities form over time and how they adapt to their environments.

Jude Casseday (aka dejacusse) is a soundscape artist and electronic musician from Durham, North Carolina. Her work ranges from sound experimentation to more structured compositions for dance, film, art events, and yoga.

Inclusive Communication in the Science Classroom

September 16th, 12:00 to 1:00 PM EST

The most effective teachers do more than simply communicate facts and information. They create a sense of belonging for their students – every student – and empower them to grow and thrive in their learning environment. What are the strategies underlying this inclusive teaching style and how can it be implemented in a science classroom?

Join us for our first SciComm Lunch-and-Learn of the new academic year (and the first-ever virtual Lunch-and-Learn), when Drs. Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy of UNC-Chapel Hill will share their insight on Inclusive Communication in the Science Classroom. They have collaborated on critical research in this area and co-authored multiple publications, including an important and widely cited article entitled “How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive”, which appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in July of 2019.

Dr. Kelly Hogan is a STEM Teaching Professor in Biology and Assoc. Dean of Instructional Innovation at UNC-Chapel Hill. She received her Ph.D. in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine from UNC. Dr. Viji Sathy is a Teaching Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill. She received her Ph.D. in Psychometrics from UNC.


Exactly the Same, but Different, with Dr. Efra Rivera-Serrano

February 20th, 12:00 to 1:00 PM, Rubenstein Library 153

Using Our Scientific Interests to Design Science Communication Strategies: Most scientists lack training outside their respective fields of study – including principles of communication – which often hinders the confidence and skills required to effectively share their ideas to broader audiences. How can we, as scientists, re-wire our preconceptions about social sciences? How can we predict effective rhetorical communication strategies by exploiting our intrinsic passion for a particular scientific topic?

Dr. Efra Rivera-Serrano will be sharing how we can design unique communication strategies if we look at SciComm through the lens of our individual field of study. Efra is a Research Associate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the founder of #UniqueScientists, an online platform designed to celebrate and promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in STEM.


Water, Water Everywhere, with Dr. Kathleen Gray and Dr. Lee Ferguson

Wednesday, January 22, noon – 1 p.m.

Testing North Carolina’s Drinking Water and Communicating Risk: What is really in the water we drink, how do we know, and how do we communicate potential risks to the public in ways that inform without eliciting undue concern (or, worse yet, panic)? The presence of chemicals like GenX (a member of a class of chemicals known as PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in NC’s water supply prompted the state of North Carolina to establish the PFAS Testing Network in 2018. In the first SciComm Lunch-and-Learn of 2020, Dr. Kathleen Gray (UNC Institute for the Environment), who is one of the leads of the NC PFAS Testing Network’s Risk Communication Team, will discuss general strategies for communicating risk in science. She and Duke’s Dr. Lee Ferguson (one of the Network’s lead scientists) will then talk specifically about the PFAS testing that was done over the last year, what was found, and some of the science/risk communication challenges this presented. This is sure to be an informative and eye-opening session, so don’t miss it.

Dr. Gray works to enhance public understanding of current environmental science and health research and its relevance to daily life, and empower North Carolinians to make informed decisions that protect the environment and public health. She earned a Ph.D. in science education from NC State University, an M.S.P.H. in environmental sciences and engineering from UNC-Chapel Hill and a B.S. in mathematics from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Ferguson is an Environmental Analytical Chemist whose research is focused on the development of novel methods for trace analysis of organic and nanoparticulate contaminants in the aquatic environment. He earned a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.


Why 50% of parents who have children with autism believe a vaccine is at least partly to blame: The shocking and untold story

Monday, November 11, noon – 1 p.m.

As with many “controversial” areas of science, the vaccine/autism story is fundamentally a story of the challenges of effective science communication. But there is a fascinating and surprising chapter in this story that you might not know. Come to the November SciComm Lunch-and-Learn to hear more about this from Duke immunologist William Parker.

Dr. Parker has studied biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology at Duke University since 1993. Best known for the discovery of the function of the human vermiform appendix (a safe-house for bacteria), William has spent the last 15 years looking at fundamental causes of inflammation in Western societies. His work on “biota alteration”, a concept which evolved from the “hygiene hypothesis”, has been aimed at evaluating the role of the gut ecosystem in mental health. William’s work covers a variety of mental health issues, and his conclusions regarding the causes of autism spectrum disorders have received considerable attention. He has published more than 120 peer-reviewed papers, including a paper in 2017 looking at the role of vaccines in the development of autism.


Science, Religion, and the Art of Storytelling, with Dr. Andrew Aghapour

Thursday, October 10, noon – 1 p.m.

If you’re a fan of Radiolab or have ever become engrossed in a TED talk, then you have experienced how storytelling can be a powerful tool for science communication. Storytelling is a genre that draws on anecdotes and personal experience in order to convey a big idea. Storytelling has become a popular way for scientists and scholars to translate their work for a general audience. This installment of the SciComm Lunch-and-Learn series will offer some tricks of the trade. Join us to explore how storytelling can make you a better communicator and educator.

Dr. Andrew Ali Aghapour is a comedian and a scholar of religion. He teaches improv, stand up, and storytelling, and has performed alongside comedians including Maria Bamford, Kevin McDonald, and Emo Philips. His one-person show Zara, about religion and immigration, premiered earlier this year in Durham. Andrew’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of religion and science. He is the managing editor of Harvard’s Cosmologics magazine and a consulting scholar with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.


Skype a Scientist: Connecting Scientists and Students via Technology

Thursday, September 12, noon – 1 p.m.

We know that one of the best ways to excite kids about science is to bring actual scientists into the classroom to discuss their work. But how can you do this when the scientist is in a different state, or even on the other side of the world?

Sarah McAnulty addressed this challenge by creating the “Skype-a-Scientist” program while she was a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, studying squid biology in Spencer Nyholm’s lab. Skype-a-Scientist brings scientists from around the globe into classrooms to engage with students and teachers, share stories, answer questions and inspire the scientists of the future.

Come to the September SciComm Lunch-and-Learn to hear Sarah discuss her inspiration for the program, talk about the rewards and challenges of running it, and answer your questions.


Communicating Science in the Courtroom: Reflections on My Experiences as an Expert Witness

Friday, May 10 at 12pm. Register here.

If you watch Law and Order or any of the CSI shows, you probably think you have a good idea of what it is like to serve as an expert scientific witness in a courtroom trial. But how accurate are those shows? What is it really like to serve as an expert witness in a science or technology case? How does one prepare? What sorts of questions can you anticipate? And, how does one even go about becoming an expert witness? In our May installment of the SciComm Lunch-and-Learn series, Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou (a CRISPR expert from NC State University) will answer your questions and share some surprising stories from his many experiences as an expert scientific witness. This will be the last SciComm Lunch-and-Learn before summer break and it promises to be a fascinating and entertaining discussion, so don’t miss it or you’ll be held in contempt.

Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, is the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, and Editor-in-Chief of The CRISPR Journal. He is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s experts in CRISPR technology, and was first author on the 2007 Science paper providing experimental proof for the immune function of CRISPR. He has also served as an expert witness in numerous legal cases focusing on science and technology.


Studying the Science of Science Communication in the Era of Social Media, Fake News and Short Attention Spans

Thursday, April 18 at 12pm. Register here.

How does one big snowstorm (in the middle of the hottest year on record) convince the public to ignore overwhelming scientific consensus and dismiss climate change science as a hoax? Why is actress Jenny McCarthy seemingly more influential with respect to public attitudes about vaccination than 99% of the medical community? What makes so many people think “Frankenfood” when they hear the term GMO? Join us at the April SciComm Lunch-and-Learn to hear Dr. Dietram Scheufele, one of the world’s experts on the science of science communication address these questions while discussing his research on science communication strategies and how they affect public decision-making.

Dietram is currently the John E. Ross Professor in Science Communication at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Overall, his work focuses on public attitudes and policy dynamics regarding science, with his most recent work focuses on the effect of social media and other new forms of communication. His outstanding work in this field has led to him co-chairing the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication Research and Practice, among his many other distinguishing accomplishments.

Science in Prisons: Bringing Conservation Biology and Environmental Sustainability to the Incarcerated

Tuesday, March 19 at 12pm.

Ecologist Nalini Nadkarni was just looking for some extra hands to help her with her sustainability research. In a eureka moment, she realized that the incarcerated represented potential partners that are also extremely under-served. Not only did they have time on their hands, but many were hungry for intellectual stimulation and, as it turned out, energized by a desire to pursue their paths to reform through contribution to Nalini’s conservation biology work.

Several years later, her Sustainability in Prisons project has become a wildly successful (and often emulated) example of how to combine innovative science with impactful engagement of under-served populations. Come to SciComm Lunch-and-Learn to hear Nalini discuss her amazing, inspiring work communicating science in prisons and engaging the incarcerated in her conservation biology research.

Nalini is an ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rain forest canopies by using mountain-climbing equipment to rise above the forest floor. She is currently an emeritus professor at The Evergreen State College and serves as a professor in the Biology department at University of Utah. She is very active in public science outreach, in addition to her work as an ecologist.


The Power of Art & Science

Thursday, February 28 at 12pm

Join Ariana Eily as she discusses the scicomm lessons she learned from her work alongside Casey Lindberg and Hannah Devens to enhance the public’s connection to science by joining art and science.

Over the summer last year, the three launched a new science-art initiative called the Art of a Scientist that drew over 250 people to its opening at the Rubenstein Art Center. Between the collaborations between artists and scientists, the public outreach events, and the panel discussion, this shined a bright light on the power of merging art and science to draw people in. The exhibit is now in the stages of its second iteration and looks to be something that will continue to captivate scientists, arts, and everyone in between for years to come.