Past Events

Idea Café: When Models Disintegrate

A Commons Event

What do we do when the story we tell ourselves, the narrative we depend on for comfort, understanding and our general well-being falls apart? Usually the crisis can be averted by tinkering, fiddling, mending, adding, or in general, futzing. And then there are those other times...

The Idea Café is intended to elicit energetic exchanges between attendees in response to the speaker's introduction. This café will be led by Hume Feldman, KU professor of physics and astronomy, who specializes in cosmology and astrophysics. 

Lunch is provided, and RSVP is required by August 30. 
RSVP to Emily Ryan at

Event Details

Date/Time Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 12:00pm - 2:00pm

Behind-the-Scenes Tour: Birds


For more than 140 years, KU scientists and students have collected and studied Earth's animals and plants. Only a few of these specimens are on display for the public in the exhibits of the KU Natural History Museum; milions more are in jars or on shelves throughout the Biodiversity Institute's research areas.

Now is your chance to see one of our collections up close. On Sunday, June 26, we will offer a behind-the-scenes tour of our ornithology collection at 5 p.m. Ornithology collection manager Mark Robbins, who recently returned from fieldwork in Vietnam, will lead the tour. This event was originally scheduled for April 26 but has been postponed to June 26 because of scheduling conflicts.

Advanced registration for this event is required. Please call 785.864.2344 to register. A $7 contribution for the tour is suggested for the public, and $5 for museum members.

Event Details

Date/Time Sunday, June 26, 2011 - 5:00pm - 6:30pm

Wetlands Walking Tour

Once a corn and soybean field, the  142-acre expansion of wetlands east of U.S. Highway 59 now features abundant wildlife, tall native grasses and a stable water retention system. How are such wetlands ecosystems created and sustained? Bring your walking shoes for this spring field trip to the wetlands south of Lawrence to learn about the area with wetlands manger Roger Boyd.
Tour size is limited; registration required by Friday, June. 3. Call 785.864.2344 to register.

Event Details

Date/Time Sunday, June 5, 2011 - 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Beauty is in the Eye of the Judicial Beholder

A Science on Tap event

The beauty of a patented design shouldn't matter in court. But in intellectual property disputes, when judges consider such designs - think of the Nike swoosh, the curl of Coca-Cola, the siren that graces Starbucks coffee - they tend to favor those that they find attractive, even if that goes against the law. And according to Associate Professor Andrew Torrance, there are evolutionary biology principles at the root of such preferences. Join us for a discussion about human preference, design, evolution and the law at our next Science on Tap.

Science on Tap is a science cafe. Doors open at Free State Brewing Company at 6 p.m., and the discussion begins at 7:30 p.m. Join us early for dinner, or come just for the conversation.

Event Details

Date/Time Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 7:30pm - 9:00pm

Percival's Planet

A talk and book signing

In 2006, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. In 2007, the American Dialect Society selected the term "plutoed" as its 2006 Word of the Year meaning "to be demoted or devalued, as was the former planet Pluto." But 2010 brought us the 80th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto, and the publication of Percival's Planet by Michael Byers. The richly imagined novel of Depression-era America is inspired by the true story of the Kansas farm boy, Clyde Tombaugh, who made the discovery of Pluto at Lowell Observatory and later earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas.

On Tuesday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m., Byers will offer a talk and book signing at the Kansas Union ballroom. This event is co-sponsored by the KU Bookstore, the Kansas Union, the Department of Physics and Astronomy and The Commons.

Event Details

Date/Time Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 6:30pm - 9:00pm

Evolve! Adapt to Survive

A Museum Student Advisory Board Event

More than 150 years after its first publication, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species inspires the way artists look at the world, from the curl of an opossum’s tail to the stark twisted bark of a juniper tree.

Artistic renderings of these specimens and other scenes from the natural world form “Evolve! Adapt to Survive,” an art exhibition presented by the KU Natural History Museum Student Advisory Board. Artists from across northeast Kansas interpreted a quote from Charles Darwin about evolution and survival to create the art included in the exhibition.

An opening reception will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. on Friday, April 1 at the museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd. Admission is free; refreshments will be provided. The exhibition opening will include a performance by the band the Oils.

The exhibition, which is organized and curated by the advisory board, will remain on view in the Stairwell Gallery of the museum through spring of 2012.

Event Details

Date/Time Friday, April 1, 2011 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm

Brian Boyd: Can Evolution Explain the Arts?

An Idea Cafe at the Commons

The arguments in Brian Boyd’s latest book, On the Origin of Stories (2009), will serve to kick off a new program at The Commons, the Idea Café. What triggers our emotional engagement with stories? What patterns facilitate our responses? The need to hold an audience’s attention is the fundamental problem facing all storytellers, Boyd argues, and enduring artists are those that arrive at solutions that appeal to cognitive universals.

Idea Café at The Commons features one speaker making a short, 15-minute presentation on a provocative idea, structured to elicit a dialogue among audience members. The Idea Café is not a question and answer session. It is an opportunity for active participation of the university community—faculty, students, staff, and members of the public—in a discussion that challenges common assumptions about the relationship between the humanities, science, and art. Participants should come prepared to listen, reflect, and most importantly, engage in the dialogue. This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided, but RSVP is required no later than March 25 to Emily Ryan at

Event Details

Date/Time Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 1:00pm - 2:30pm

Cataloging Biodiversity in a Global Conservation Hotspot

A Science on Tap event

The small southeast Asian island archipelago of the Philippines is one of only two places on Earth designated by Conservation International as both a megadiverse nation and a global conservation hotspot. Drawing on examples from his 20 year history of biodiversity discovery and conservation work in the Philippines, herpetologist Rafe Brown will discuss the challenges faced by conservation biologists in a country where the diversity of animals and plants is still very poorly known to scientists.

Event Details

Date/Time Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 7:30pm

Networks and You..and you, and you and you...

A Science on Tap event

Ever meet a complete stranger who knows someone that you know? It’s a small world.

Scientists from a variety of fields have found that many complex systems – including predators and prey in ecosystems, the nationwide power grid, and yes, social networks – are structured in such a way that make these “small-world” experiences possible. Join Mike Vitevitch, associate professor of psychology, as we explore the science behind such networks. We'll talk about how the connections in a network influence what occurs in that system, whether it be a social system, a technological system or even a cognitive system.

Event Details

Date/Time Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 7:30pm - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 9:00pm

Ghost Bird: Whatever Happened to the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker?

Event Postponed to Feb. 9

Join us Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 7 pm. (new date and time) for a film and conversation about the ivory-billed woodpecker. First, we'll offer the documentary film Ghost Bird, a documentary film about an extinct giant woodpecker, a small town in Arkansas hoping to capitalize on the animal, and the birdwatchers and scientists who are searching for it.

With a soundtrack by the Pixies, the Black Keys and other artists, the film weaves together several stories to ultimately question whether conservation of one species comes at the expense of others.

Following the film, ornithologist Mark Robbins will lead a talk-back session, Conservation and the Ivory Bill Fantasy. Refreshments will be served.



Event Details

Date/Time Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 1:00am - 3:00am