Brian Hart, a UCI doctoral student in astrophysics, is bringing science from the lecture halls to local bookstores, cafes and java joints.

“People are curious about science, but many don’t have time to sit through a big presentation,” Hart says.

To serve up science in easy-to-digest doses, Hart started The Southern California Science Café, an informal group open to anyone who wants to learn about melting polar caps, hurricanes, cloning and other scientific topics. Café events typically include a short film clip or demonstration, a talk by a scientist, and a question-and-answer session – all in the time it takes to sip a venti latte.

Hart modeled The Science Café on a program offered through the PBS series “NOVA scienceNOW” and Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. There are Science Cafés in 34 U.S. cities and around the world. The UCI and Orange County chapters of Sigma Xi help run the local group, which has about 60 members – though it’s not necessary to join to attend an event.

“We learn about scientific topics making the news,” says Hart, the group’s director. “It’s better than listening to sound bites, but not as intimidating as lectures.”

Most speakers are UCI professors and graduate students, but Hart has invited other experts recommended by NOVA. Talks are given in user-friendly language. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for instance, sparked a recent discussion on the “femme fatales.”

“If you don’t connect science to real life or discuss it in a way people understand, they lose interest,” Hart says.

Upcoming events include a talk on “Cosmology: Explorations of the Light and Dark Universe” by Elizabeth Barton, UCI assistant professor of physics and astronomy, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Jolly Roger Restaurant in Anaheim. UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni will discuss mirror neurons – brain cells believed to arouse empathy with others – at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Metro Pointe at South Coast, Costa Mesa.

“These events help scientists connect with people,” Hart says.