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Astronomy on Tap slings drinks, trivia, and astro-themed fun in 2023

On December 7th, CIERA welcomed 55 guests to Begyle Brewing for Astronomy on Tap Chicago (AoT)’s “Merry Chirp-mass: Carol of the Waves”, a night full of trivia, education, and good conversation all centered around astronomy. The Chicago chapter is one of the earliest members of this now global sensation. Astronomy on Tap was created to not only bring together current space lovers, but also to invite curious members of the community to learn about astronomy and the diverse set of researchers who make up the field today!  

A driving force for both CIERA and AoT is the pursuit of knowledge and the dissemination of that knowledge to a broad audience. AoT Chicago is held approximately once every 6-8 weeks, inviting scientists to share new developments in their research or the field as a whole. Audience members can chat with one of several scientists during halftime, and trivia is scattered throughout the event with multiple prizes to collect!

Dr. Zevin presents the ‘cosmic symphony’.

In December 2023, Adler Planetarium Astrophysicist and CIERA Visiting Scholar Dr. Michael Zevin and CIERA-Adler Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Caitlin Witt gave presentations on black holes, neutron stars, gravitational waves, and the frequencies of astrological objects that create what both scientists described as a “symphony”. 

Dr. Zevin explained that people are most comfortable associating astronomy with their sense of sight, however gravitational waves represent a different sense altogether. Black holes emit gravitational waves with frequencies that coincide with things you can hear rather than see. By pairing different waves with different parts of a symphony, audiences who do not have extensive astrophysical knowledge can still learn how gravitational waves differ from one another, and what information those “chirps” tell us. 

“Science is naturally a public endeavor,” Zevin explains. “[There is] a responsibility to give back and by making science more accessible it lifts the veil that is often in front of scientific developments.”

Dr. Witt echoed these same sentiments. In her presentation she focused on the bass and cello-like gravitational waves emitted by supermassive black holes. Her presentation included recordings of “chirps”, dancing pulsars, and memes of “Astronomy Wrapped,” inspired by Spotify. (Shout out to the reliable J1713+0747 for being our top artist this year!)

Dr. Witt presents at the December 2023 AoT.

Witt told CIERA staff that Astronomy on Tap is one of her favorite outreach events because it is so casual and accessible. “We’re able to wave our arms and think about things wiggling” she laughs, while explaining that her presentations are meant to be fun, interesting, and interactive. 

That isn’t to say that her and Zevin’s presentations aren’t also incredibly informative. After walking the audience through pulsars, red noise, neutron stars and the entire cosmic symphony, Witt closes by saying that “the history of the universe is written in the ocean of gravitational waves and we are finally tuned in enough to hear it.”

CIERA’s Education and Outreach Coordinator James Schottelkotte reading out astronomy-themed trivia questions in between presentations

Our community engagement and scientific outreach initiatives are a critical part of CIERA’s mission. This specific event was holiday-themed, and many participants came in Christmas gear and festive spirits. Thanks to Begyle Brewing for hosting and to the CIERA organizers, the audience was able to enjoy drinks while playing trivia and immersing themselves in astrophysics research through Northwestern, CIERA, and the Adler Planetarium. Attendees included fellow astrophysicists, interested undergraduates, and community members who may have never been exposed to astrophysics before. Participants were able to win prizes in trivia and converse with presenters and other astrophysicists in the breaks. 

Astronomy on Tap just joined Instagram and will be posting updates on their next events – be sure to follow! Thanks to the AoT Chicago organizing team for all their work: James Schottelkotte, Alex Gurvich, Genevieve Schroeder, Vic Dong, Caitlin Witt, Nycole Wenner, Erin Cox, Dennis Lee, and many more!


Astronomy on Tap held 6 events in 2023: 

The Vampires of the Universe: Fall Into Black Holes With AoT | October 12, 2023

Out-of-This-World Brews: Moonstruck Extremophiles and Stellar Sips! | July 20, 2023

PhD Student Floyd Nichols talks about extremophiles at the July 20, 2023 AoT at Five and Dime.

AoT Presents: Star Wars Day – Party like it’s Boonta Eve | May 4, 2023

CIERA Postdoc Sharan Banagiri presents at the Star Wars-themed AoT at Begyle Brewing on May 4, 2023.

Pie in the Sky: A Slice of the Universe Served up Fresh | March 14, 2023

Guests settle in at the March 14 AoT at Five and Dime.

AoT Presents: Too Hot to Handle – Inside the Lives of the Universe’s Most Notorious Couples! | February 9, 2023 

CIERA Postdoc Dino Hsu presents at the February 9, 2023 AoT at Begyle Brewing.

Article by Gabriela Hamburger Medailleu