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Beer nerds

Brains and brews collide in Tulsa’s monthly science salons

STEMcell Science Shop owners Jessie and Terry Mudge sip on offerings from Heirloom Rustic Ales.

Greg Bollinger

Science lovers from all across Tulsa gathered at Heirloom Rustic Ales on Valentine’s Day for the brewery’s latest installment of its popular Think & Drink series. The event, a partnership between Heirloom and the nearby STEMcell Science Shop, brings Tulsans to the Kendall Whittier neighborhood for scientific discussion—and, of course, beer.

STEMcell co-owners Terry and Jessie Mudge were inspired to bring science to the public sphere by Booksmart Tulsa’s literary lectures. “We always wanted a science version. Preferably big names … but we’re starting off with local scientists and professors to give people a glimpse into the hard science world,” Terry said. “We’re trying to get a diverse range of scientists in professions and fields just so that people can scratch their scientific itch.”

“It’s like a TED Talk with booze,” Terry said. “Not so stuffy, just kind of a casual conversation about nerdy stuff.”

The event has been a hit, which Terry partially credits to Kendall Whittier’s Second Thursday Art Walk. Many art studios and businesses in Kendall Whittier are open late during the monthly event, allowing Tulsans to get up close and personal with the up-and-coming district.

“The Second Thursday thing, and hosting these events, helped our decision to move our business [to Kendall Whittier],” Terry said. “Because one thing we always wanted was to work with other businesses and have a community.”

The event fits right in at Heirloom, whose owners have backgrounds in science.

“Brewing is somewhere in between science, art ... creativity, somewhere in that realm,” said Zach French, co-owner of Heirloom. “It’s, on the basic level, biochemistry and microbiology, and then trying to create something in the way an artist or a chef would utilizing those tools of science.”

Think & Drink has attracted attention from Tulsa’s scientific community. “All of the people we’ve had to speak have been voluntary, and they’ve all been really excited to do it,” Terry said. The event provides an opportunity for professors to talk about passion projects, or ideas that interest them, instead of simply covering classroom material.

Clean energy was the topic of February’s event, which featured a talk by Dr. Edith Newton Wilson, founder, president, and CEO of Rock Whisperer LLC, a sustainable-energy consulting firm in Tulsa. Dr. Wilson, a geologist by training, spoke with the crowd about the merits of moving to sustainable energy sources over traditional sources such as coal or oil.

The topic can be a hard sell in Oklahoma, where the oil and gas industry is especially powerful. But over the hour-long lecture, Wilson made a strong case for a transition to cleaner, renewable sources of fuel, arguing that renewable energy is becoming more efficient, accessible, and economically feasible.

Wilson compared investing in fossil fuels to building a better rotary phone in the age of smartphones. “In many ways we are moving backwards,” she said.

Despite issuing warnings about rising sea levels and other effects of climate change, Wilson struck an optimistic tone. She said that she has been giving this lecture for some time now, and every time she updates the information in it, the news looks better for clean energy.

As the crowd sipped Heirloom saisons, sours, and IPAs, Wilson went on to show that coal, our largest source of fossil fuels, can only produce a total of 900TW of energy. The sun, on the other hand, produces 23,000TW every year. The sun produces more energy in one year than could be harvested out of every crumb of coal in the world.

This is the kind of socially aware, science-driven data people can expect to come away with from Heirloom’s monthly salon. Terry and Jessie try to book lectures about topical issues, to show how understanding science can inform our daily lives in 2019. “We’ve been trying to choose more relevant topics like clean energy because that seems to be what people come out for.”

Past events have brought out large crowds, particularly their event on recreational marijuana. “It was a week before the election day, maybe the week of,” Terry said. “There were a lot of questions, a lot of discussion.”

Next month’s Think & Drink event will cover the topic of rare diseases. They will be partnering with the Global Foundation for Peroxisomal Disorders, which helps fund research and promotes education related to Zellweger spectrum disorders.

The event will be held Thurs., March 14 at Heirloom Rustic Ales.

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