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Trivia Night at the Science Kaffeehaus

Einstein's Big Idea homepage

In the spirit of the Zurich cafés where Einstein did some of his most creative thinking, turn your library into a lively Science Kaffeehaus. Your guests can hear from a local scientist and take part in a trivia game—all related to E = mc2. It's a fun and effective way to reach new audiences and help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public.

Ages: 18 and up
Time: 2-1/2 hours
Group Size: 15 or more (depending on your space)

Get Ready

  1. Get to know E = mc2

    Don't worry—it's not your job to explain the equation! Your goal is to feel comfortable sharing the following background information:

      • The year 2005 marks the centennial of Einstein's famous equation E = mc2—a groundbreaking insight he came to at the age of 26.

      • To derive the equation, Einstein built upon the work of many scientists, including women and other scientific "outsiders."

      • The equation's legacy continues in countless inventions and discoveries (these connections can be made by your scientist speaker).

    • Visit NOVA's Einstein's Big Idea Web site (

    • Read David Bodanis's book, E = mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation.

    • Review other resources of interest from the resource lists.

  2. Set a date, time, and location

    • Hold the event on an evening when the library is closed, or in a large meeting room. If possible, choose a space where snacks can be served.

  3. Find a scientist to host the trivia event

    • Contact the World Year of Physics 2005 Speakers Program, which can help locate scientists who have a knack for explaining to the public Einstein's ideas and their impact (

    • Contact your local chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, whose members represent a diverse set of scientific disciplines (

    • Inquire at local colleges and museums for suggestions of experts who would be interested in presenting.

    • Seek articulate, engaging presenters. Also, consider breaking down stereotypes by finding scientists from underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities.

    • Explain their role: To engage the general public in a dialogue and trivia game related to E = mc2, its significance, and how it affects them today. Inform them that the time commitment is small and little preparation is necessary.

    • Establish whether a monetary incentive is needed for your speaker and, if so, how you can fund it.

  4. Publicize the event

    • Send a press release or information about the event to local television stations and to online and printed calendar listings in listservs, newsletters, and newspapers (see sample press release at right).

    • Post flyers for the event at the library and in the community.

    • List your event in the World Year of Physics events database. This nationwide database is searchable by state or date (

    • Suggest people sign up individually or in teams, and ask people to register (by sign-up sheet at the library or by email) so that you have a sense of the group size.

  5. Recruit volunteers

    Enlist library personnel or volunteers to moderate, judge, and provide A/V support.

    • The moderator will introduce the scientist, clarify rules for trivia, and run the Q & A session. The moderator should be comfortable speaking in public and familiar with the concepts being discussed.

    • Have two to three volunteers hand out, collect, and score trivia answer sheets. They don't need to have any special expertise but should understand the questions and answers so they can accurately score response variations.

    • An A/V volunteer should set up any equipment before the event begins and be available to help with glitches that may arise during the evening. Use of a microphone is recommended to ensure that everyone can hear.

  6. Gather snacks, prizes, and materials

    • Create a Swiss Kaffeehaus by offering coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, along with small pastries such as strudel slices and butter cookies. Play classical music, such as Bach's Brandenberg Concerti.

    • Obtain prizes for all participants and/or the winning team.

    • Photocopy the Round 1 question sheet for each team.

    • Collect blank pads of paper and pencils for teams to collect answers during Round 2.

    • Create your own trivia Q's. Increase the challenge by adding a third round of questions. You can develop your own or choose from those provided by the World Year of Physics at:

  7. Do a test run on the day of the event

    • Prepare the space, set out food and trivia materials, and test any A/V equipment.

    • Set up a welcome table with blank nametags and markers available.

    • Set up a whiteboard or a flipchart on an easel to use as a trivia scoreboard.

    • Have the scientist run through his or her presentation before the guests arrive.

Run the Event

  1. Welcome

    • Welcome and sign in participants. Invite them to make nametags and have a snack while waiting for others to arrive.

    • Introduce the evening to the entire group.

    • Show the NOVA video clip to introduce the young Einstein and other scientists whose work laid essential groundwork for the equation. (optional)

  2. Introduce the scientist

    • Scientist comments on video clip (optional), reiterates the main concepts of E = mc2, gives an example of how it affects our daily lives, or makes a connection between the equation and his or her work.

  3. Explain the trivia rules

    • There will be two rounds, each introduced by the scientist.

    • Participants should form teams of 2-5 (depending on group size). Each team should select a name. (For fun, offer a prize for the most creative team name that's related to E = mc2.) Each team should pick an answer recorder.

    • For Round 1, teams use the pre-printed question sheet. Remind teams to write their team name at the top of their sheet and to turn in the sheet to one of the volunteers at the end of Round 1.

    • For Round 2, questions will be read aloud. (For multiple choice questions, you can write out the answer choices for all to see.) Teams will have two minutes to submit the answer to each question. The scientist will give the answer for each question after all questions have been turned in and before moving to the next question.

    • For all rounds, correct answers will be announced.

    • Team totals will be tallied and posted after each round. Each answer is worth one point. Multi-answer questions award one point per answer. The last question in Round 2 can make or break a winner—it's worth up to ten points. Teams wager points based on their confidence in their answer. These points are added to a team total for a correct answer and subtracted from a team total for an incorrect answer.

  4. Play the trivia game (see sample time line)

  5. Wrap up

    • Hand out prizes.

    • Wrap it up and thank participants. Ask them to fill out a brief event evaluation.

Sample Time Line





Moderator, Volunteers

Set up A/V (e.g., computer, screen, projector, microphone, speakers), chairs, and Welcome Table with sign-up sheets, nametags, markers, and any handouts.


Moderator, Scientist, Volunteers

Run through welcome, video clip (optional), and Scientist's presentation. Set out snacks and all trivia materials.


Moderator, Volunteers

Help guests settle in. Play classical music.



Welcome participants, explain purpose of the evening, introduce E = mc2, and show video clip (optional).



Introduce scientist.



Discuss how work relates to E = mc2 (or other appropriate topic).


Moderator, Scientist

Moderate brief Q & A session for scientist (to be continued after the trivia). Review trivia rules. Teams choose names.



Introduce Round 1. Teams read and answer questions directly on trivia question sheet.



Collect Round 1 sheets.


Scientist, Moderator, Volunteers

Give the answers for Round 1. Volunteers score Round 1 and record team results on the scoreboard.


Scientist, Moderator

Introduce Round 2. Scientist reads each question aloud; teams have two minutes to turn in single answers after each question is read. Moderator presses a buzzer when answer period is over. Scientist gives answer for question after all teams' answers have been turned in and before reading next question.



Score answers as they come in. Halfway through Round 2, tally and post team standings on the scoreboard.


Moderator, Scientist

Invite the group to ask the scientist more questions. Repeat participants' questions so the entire audience can hear. Encourage a dialogue.



Tally final team standings.


Moderator, Scientist

Announce final scores and give prizes.


Moderator, Scientist

Have the audience fill out an evaluation form. Point participants to library displays, books, and handouts related to E = mc2.


Event ends.

Back to top

Einstein's Big Idea
Library Resource Kit

Big Ideas
E = mc2 has a human story. Science is a process of inquiry and synthesis. Science is influenced by society. The legacy of E = mc2 continues.


A/V Equipment

  • Microphone/speakers
  • Screen/television
  • Projector
  • Computer
  • Cables, extension cords
  • (optional) "Einstein's Big Idea" video clip from (4 min. 38 sec.)

Welcome Table

  • Pencils
  • Nametags
  • Markers



  • Agenda
  • Scientist's props
  • Snacks
  • Evaluation form

Prize Ideas

For all participants:
Bookmark, pencil, or pen with library name or science theme.

For the winning team (at least 5 prizes to accommodate a big team):
Video store, movie theater, or restaurant coupons (local establishments may donate coupons); free passes to a local science museum; book from the resource lists in this guide; Einstein-themed mugs, t-shirts, and posters (widely available at science museum gift shops or such Web sites as and

Sample Press Release


Hosted by <Scientist Name, Affiliation>

WHAT: A Trivia Night with a Science Flavor and Wide Appeal, hosted by <scientist name>

WHEN: <Start Time to End Time> on <Day, Date, Year>.

WHERE: The <Library Name>, <address>, <town>, <phone>, <Web site>

In the 19th century, people packed the lecture halls of Europe to hear talks and debates by prominent scientists—who were considered the rock stars of their day. Now the <Library Name> is introducing this tradition of lively public dialogue about science with our Science Kaffeehaus. The Kaffeehaus will serve up a mix of popular culture and science-flavored trivia, with teams competing to answer questions and win prizes. Trivia sessions will be interspersed with question-and-answer sessions with <scientist name> of <institution>.

The Science Kaffeehaus is inspired by the new NOVA special program, "Einstein's Big Idea" ( The two-hour film brings to life the dramatic stories of men and women whose innovative thinking led to Einstein's revolutionary equation, and explores the tremendous impact of the equation on humanity.

This exciting event is designed for all—physics degrees are not required! To join us, sign up at the library's main desk or email <email contact>.

Round 1 Answers

  1. Germany (Ulm)

  2. You might think the metal would weigh less, but Lavoisier's experiments showed it actually weighed more. He also determined that the surrounding air weighed less afterward than it had before, by exactly the same amount—as if some of the mass from the air had "stuck to" the metal.

  3. Marie Antoinette

  4. (a) Marie and Pierre Curie
    (b) Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

  5. (c) 29 million years. If every particle became energy, the lump would yield around 25 billion kilowatt hours—enough to keep the bulb glowing for about 29 million years.

  6. (a) flea. Even zooming at roughly 18,000 mph, a space shuttle is nowhere near a speed that would significantly change its mass. When subatomic particles travel near the speed of light, though, as they do in the world's most powerful particle accelerators, they can become 40,000 times heavier than they are at rest.

  7. Franklin D. Roosevelt

  8. Walter Matthau

  9. 300,000 km/sec; 186,000 miles/sec

  10. Israel

Round 2 Answers

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