Sunday, October 09, 2016

Expert Entertainment: Chris Rose on frogs, amphibians, and us

As most of you already know, Demystifying the Expert is a program hosted by our own professors Anca Constantin and Klebert Feitosa that is meant to introduce the public to science by combining comedy and education. The event involves a guest speaker, who is an expert in their field of science, and a group of local comedians who attempt to “demystify the expert”. There are questions, games, trivia and improvised skits in the humorous event that makes science fun.  Some reminders of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

The expert, Chris Rose, comfortably flanked by the hosts
( left: Feitosa and Constantin) and the three comedians (on the right) 
On the Thursday of September 29th, in Taylor Down Under, was the first Demystifying the Expert event of the year, run in conjunction with the comedians Shelby Imes, Macy Pniewski, and Knick McKay of JMU's one and only comedy group “New and Improv’d”.  As planned, and maybe also expected, the event managed to make learning about the research of Dr. Christopher Rose, a biologist, who works for the progression of animal species and the changes that occur over time.

Here is a little summary what went on, in case you missed the show:

The show started with a game of 20 questions, where the improv group was supposed to attempt to figure out what exactly Dr. Rose studies in his research by asking “yes/no” questions, though more was ultimately learned about him as the night unfolded. It did not take long for the three members of the improv group to determine that Dr. Rose studies amphibians.

The audience seems raptured...
After discovering that Dr. Rose worked with frogs, one comedian asked, “Do you cut them up?” This resulted in laughter from the audience.  Dr. Rose discussed how sometimes, they have no choice but to kill frogs as the amount of tadpoles that can develop ranges from 20 to almost 8000, which is far more than his lab needs or can afford for the research. He nonchalantly described letting the small frogs die saying, “Sometimes I just give them to the adults to do what they do with them,” implying that he lets the adult frogs eat the unneeded tadpoles.

Eventually the topic of frogs in popular culture was brought up.  One comedian, Knick McKay, asked Dr. Rose, “Are you familiar with the breakfast cereal Honey Smacks?” McKay then proceeded to inquire if he had done research on the Honey Smacks frog, the mascot of the cereal.  Dr. Rose was not familiar with the Honey Smacks frog, though this joke resurfaced during a portion where the improv students created a scene of Dr. Rose’s research lab.

A separate game involved guessing headlines related to amphibians. The comedians and the expert were given a headline from the news with one word left out and they had to guess the correct word to finish the headline. No one guessed that a new species of ants were discovered after being vomited up by a frog, but the comedians did manage to guess that toilet frogs are a problem for Miami.

The third game that was played involved the comedians guessing the definitions of different terminologies, or jargon, which had to do with Dr. Rose’s research.  One of these terms was punctuated equilibrium, which is when species are at equilibrium, then a drastic environmental change occurs.  It is tied to evolution, which meant one comedian said, “so we’re pretending evolution is real for tonight,” which caused the audience to laugh.

Then, the New and Improv’d comedians acted out a scene based on a day in the lab for Dr. Rose.  During the skit, the comedians had to pull quotes from a bucket and incorporate them into the skit. The quotes were lines from Gattaca, such as, “There’s no gene for fate”, and “The only trip I’ll take in space is around the sun on the satellite here.” Needless to say, the comedians had their work cut out for them, trying to incorporate these lines, and they drew a lot of laughs from the audience. 

Finally, we got to learn a little bit more about Dr. Rose and his life outside of his research during a game of “Two Truths and a Lie”. Each comedian was given a “fact” about Dr. Rose; two truths and one lie. They then had to guess which statement was the lie.  One rather interesting fact we learned about him during this game is that he was once stranded on an island in the Arctic.  Hmm, it seems that the identify of Prof. Chris Rose has been dissected...

This fun event tied in lots of information about amphibians, biology, and how research in a scientific laboratory works, while being an entertaining and comical experience.  The turn out was great (~100 people), the audience being catered with cookies, drinks, and lots of laughter and joy.

Make sure you mark your calendar with the upcoming (only three left) dates (all Thursdays):
October 27, February 16, and March 30.