Much of the scientific research in the Triangle takes place behind gates and locked doors of private companies.
But since 2013, many of these companies – more than 200 in Research Triangle Park alone – have opened their doors to the public through free monthly events called RTP 180.
Sponsored by the Research Triangle Foundation, the events are structured like miniature scientific conferences. First, beer and mingling. Then, brief scientific talks on a common theme, followed by a question and answer period. Lastly, free food.
Topics have included music, weird science, philanthropy and even love.
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“The goal of the series is to pull from all three points of the Triangle: Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill,” said Julie Terry, Marketing and Special Projects Manager at Research Triangle Park. Thus the name: in geometry, 180 degrees is the sum of the three angles of a triangle.
The audience is typically a mix of employees of Research Triangle Park, university students, and community members who are simply curious about the evening’s topic, she said.
The majority of research and development dollars in North Carolina are spent in the Triangle area, according to a 2013 N.C. Board of Science and Technology Report. Nationwide, businesses account for over half the money spent on applied research.
July’s presenters will discuss “Gaming,” an industry represented in the area by companies such as Epic, headquartered in Cary, and Ubisoft, the makers of the game Assassin’s Creed, which has a studio in Cary. The educational gaming companies Aten and Institute of Play are located in Research Triangle Park.
Gaming industries have had a presence in the Triangle for some time, said Amber Johnson, an instructor in Wake Technical Community College’s Simulation and Game Development Program who will be one of July’s presenters. Some local developers focus on “serious gaming,” whose primary goal is not entertainment, Johnson added.
About 225 people turned out for June’s forum to hear about “Agbio” or agricultural biotechnology. Five presenters, from Bayer, Syngenta, AgBiome, the N.C. Biotechnology Center and N.C. State University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, were given five minutes each to talk about their work.
A common refrain of the event was the challenge of feeding Earth’s growing population, which the United Nations projects will exceed 9 billion by 2050. Agriculture has to do more and more with less and less, noted Jacob Travers of the N.C. Biotechnology Center.
The speakers presented technology such as genetic recombination, biological insect control, and manipulation of plant microbial communities as potential solutions to world food needs.
In the question and answer period, one audience member asked about a different kind of solution: altering human habits, like eating meat.
“Humans don’t like to be told no,” replied Kurt Boudonck of Bayer CropScience.
Another speaker, Matt Koci of NCSU, added that we are living in the aftermath of a generation who experienced persistent hunger during the Great Depression and worked to change that. “Now we are dealing with the unintended consequences of achieving that goal,” Koci said.
When the panel ended, the audience dispersed to partake of a free fried chicken buffet from Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q.
Want to go?
RTP 180 events are held the third Thursday of every month and are located in The Frontier at 800 Park Offices Drive in Research Triangle Park. Doors open at 5 p.m., and presentations begin at 6 p.m.
The events are free and open to the public, but attendance is limited by space so people must register at www.rtp.org/program/rtp-180/.