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About 20 people gathered at a Kobe coffee shop one Saturday last month to discuss themes ranging from neutrinos and earthquakes to genetics. An unusual occurrence, but this was part of Kobe University’s “science cafe” project.

The science cafe concept started in Britain in 1998. Coffee shops served as venues for scientists to hold court and lecture ordinary citizens over a cup of coffee, answering questions when needed.

During the Kobe gathering, whose theme was “Sports and Technology,” Chikara Miyachi, a researcher at the National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health in Tokyo, lectured on his agency’s research activities, using video footage of top Japanese athletes.

Participants showered him with questions and their opinions.

The gathering marked the 11th of its kind sponsored by the university.

Masayuki Ito, an assistant professor at Kobe University who is in charge of managing the science cafe meets, said the school’s connections with outside researchers make it easy to invite lecturers in various fields.

Tohoku University in Sendai has sponsored monthly science cafe gatherings since August. The events have thrived, with more than 200 people attending each session.

A university student sits at each table to facilitate discussions.

“About half of those present are teenagers or in their 20s,” said Hiroshi Fukunishi, a professor at Tohoku University.

“We’ve found that although young people are said to have been distancing themselves from science, they enjoy it if we convey difficult themes in an intelligible manner.”

The interplay with the public is also seen inspiring the lecturers and student assistants, and, according to Fukunishi, more researchers at Tohoku University are willing to participate in the science cafes.

The Science Council of Japan, which is tasked with discussing important scientific matters for their further enhancement and development, is holding science cafes nationwide during scientific technology week from Monday to Sunday in cooperation with universities and local citizens’ groups.

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