Aidala illuminates the universe's dark side.

Mount Holyoke Associate Professor of Physics Kathy Aidala recently told radio host Bill Newman, “We really don't know what most of the universe is made of." But she's not discouraged by that.

"It's exciting to think about all the unanswered questions," she said in a discussion that sheds light on "dark matter" and "dark energy."

It's just one topic addressed at the monthly SciTech Café, a gathering Aidala cofounded to bring scientists together with those who have little or no background in a particular topic.

"Often science is perceived as inaccessible," Aidala said. "We wanted a place where people could engage directly with scientists."

SciTech Café, which is held each month at Amherst Brewing Company, attracts large crowds and good questions. Appetizers are offered while they last, and participants are eligible to win a prize for the best inquiry of the night.

The most recent SciTech Café aimed to enlighten listeners about the dark side of the universe.

"Dark matter and dark energy are words we give to phenomena we can't explain but that we believe exist," Aidala said. "Although we can't see them directly, we think we can observe their effect on visible matter."

For example, if stars are moving at different speeds than expected as they rotate around the center of a galaxy, scientists conclude that there must be more matter attracting those stars, even though we can't see it, Aidala explained.

—By Emily Harrison Weir