Plate tectonics was served up with steaming bowls of turkey barley soup and ample cups of java, typical fare when the Science Buzz Cafe convenes at a Sebastopol eatery for wide-ranging discussions on the workings of the universe.
The geology of Alaska was one topic, No. 68 in presentations that over the past 18 months have touched on black holes, nanotechnology, counterfeiting and the flight of the world's tiniest insects.
"I want to bring science and curiosity back in culture," said Daniel Osmer, one of the event's founders and its master of ceremonies.
The United States has more than 60 science cafes, according to a Web site connected to the PBS science program "NOVA." The cafes are informal venues that allow scientists to make presentations and spark conversations with people both knowledgeable and mostly ignorant of scientific matters.
Regulars say the Sebastopol program is one of the few, if not the only one in the nation, to meet weekly. And it has found a following, with a typical audience of more than 40.
"It's fascinating," said Graton resident Richard Coleman. "Before you know it, you learn something."
The Science Buzz Cafe grew out of the collaboration of Osmer and former Sonoma State University physics professor Robert Porter. The two credit some science-related exhibitions at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts for sparking their interest in developing such a venue.
Porter said he wants more people to understand "what science is and what it ain't." He joked that too many Americans "get their idea of science from watching 'Star Trek.' "
Speakers have included past and current faculty from Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College, plus from such companies as JDS Uniphase's Flex Products and the company that turns methane into electricity at the Sonoma County landfill.
Coffee Catz on the eastern edge of Sebastopol is the regular gathering place, though O'Reilly Media hosted a special presentation last year by the robotics team from Rohnert Park's Technology High. Guests are asked to make a $3 donation.
More than 40 people gathered Thursday around small tables in the parlorlike setting of the coffee shop. Retired SSU geology professor Terry Wright told of a 12-day raft trip last June viewing the rock formations along the Tatshenshini River as it flows through the Yukon Territory, British Columbia and Alaska.
The river, which passes through five mountain ranges, is visited by fewer than 1,000 people a year, Wright said.
His PowerPoint presentation included photos of jagged peaks and settings surrounded by 1,000 glaciers.
Wright gave considerable background on the Earth's tectonic plates, subduction zones and the pressure and heat that have the power to bend and mold rock "buried 20 miles in the bowels of the Earth."
He noted that a week in the span of a typical human life is roughly comparable to a million years in the history of the Earth's geology. And he offered a practical observation, namely that on a rafting trip, "the guy with a chair is a happy guy."
Former Sebastopol Councilwoman Jen Thille, one of Wright's former students and part of the group, said she has enjoyed several similar science cafe presentations. She emphasized that guests don't need in-depth knowledge of science, just "a curious mind and an interest."
The program next week will focus on the planned restoration of the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa. Future topics include evolution and the nature of speed, light and time.