Columbia University Medical Center

Late Night Science Brings the Public Into CUMC Labs

By Avichai Assouline

Micah Rapp, Columbia University postdoctoral fellow, demonstrates how hearing works. Photo: Avichai Assouline

When Anita Burgos, PhD, was a graduate student at CUMC, she wanted to open a dialogue between scientists and the public they serve. “A lot of the research that we do is supported by taxpayers, so we owe the public some knowledge of what we do with their money,” she says.

So in 2014 she founded Late Night Science, a seminar series led by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at Columbia University Medical Center.

One night each month, visitors to Late Night Science can learn about ongoing research at CUMC. Each talk is followed by a lab tour, giving the audience a first-hand look at the equipment of a Columbia University laboratory and how scientists do research. Recent nights have focused on the mouth’s microbiome (and how oral bacteria can travel to other parts of the body) and how hearing works. Visitors range from local residents to curious European tourists.

“Scientists don’t get to speak to the general public about their projects very often,” says Micah Rapp, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow who recently presented his new discoveries about the biology of hearing. “It can be very fulfilling to see how science can be exciting to people and how they connect it to their day to day lives.”

Photo: Avichai Assouline

Coming from a Spanish-speaking family, Dr. Burgos (she received her PhD in neuroscience in 2017) is passionate about expanding the program’s outreach to nearby Hispanic communities and to encourage Spanish-speaking community members to engage more in science. The program’s first seminar in Spanish took place last year and more programs are on the way.

“Science education is lacking,” says Richard Lewis, vice chair of Community Board 12 Manhattan, which represents the neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. Lewis avidly attends each edition of Late Night Science. “You will not see labs like you see here in a public school.”

Late Night Science is part of Columbia University Neuroscience Outreach, a student-run organization that hosts a number of events and programs for the general public, mostly in the Washington Heights area. Thanks to Dr. Burgos and her cadre of volunteers, it’s one of the organization’s most popular programs.

Learn more about Late Night Science on the program’s website.