What do pap smears, algebra and photography have in common? They've all been covered by presenters at The Laborastory, a monthly show that mixes elements of cabaret, stand-up, and science lectures.
"We want to introduce the science behind various discoveries, but that's not the focus,” says co-founder and pharmacist Natalie Collard. She runs the nights with fellow boffins Dr Aaron Wagen, a neuroscience researcher, and Dr Andrea Bedini, a mathematician. Though hard science is their collective passion, the trio is all-too aware of its limited entertainment value. Thus: “It's mostly about the people, and the stories of their lives, which the audience can relate to."
Wagen had the idea in late 2012, when he attended a US version of the show, Story Collider. "We thought that show was cool,” Collard says, “but it didn't really have a lot of science in it.” Their improved version was launched in May last year. Each Laborastory evening sees five scientists – or suitably passionate laypeople – take to the stage to tell stories about their heroes. The talks (more than 50 thus far) are then archived to iTunes and SoundCloud.
The show is so successful, it's outgrown The Brunswick St Cider House, where it first began. The Spotted Mallard, which is roughly double the size, will take over this month, with a plan to offer science-themed drinks.
"We don't have any audition process. It's just whoever puts their hand up and gives us a good pitch,” Collard says. "Everyone is always really entertaining. Which is surprising, given they work in labs for a living, rather than performing.”
The key, it seems, is unearthing the colourful personalities who lurk behind so much faceless science, such as Évariste Galois, who cracked abstract algebra as a teenager, then died in a duel at 20. Or Eadweard Muybridge who pioneered stop-motion photography after suffering a traumatic brain injury. “As much as we want to celebrate science,” Collard says, “we also want to celebrate the scientists themselves.”