Sunday, February 26, 2017

Demystifying the Expert: Starting 2017 With a Laugh

In order to introduce the public to science in a combination of comedy and education, Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Klebert Feitosa host the event Demystifying the Expert. The program brings together a guest speaker, who is an expert in their field of science, and comedians from JMU’s New & Improv’d, who attempt to “demystify the expert.” Questions, games, trivia and improvised skits all contribute to the fun as the audience learns about the expert’s work. Examples of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

On February 16, the first Demystifying the Expert of the spring semester was held with comedians Noah Etka, Macy Pniewski, and Diego Salinas and professor of chemistry, Dr. Ashleigh Baber.  

The first game was “20 questions,” where the comedians asked questions about Dr. Baber’s research to which she could only give yes or no answers. Eventually, they figured out that she works with metals, which she synthesizes to mimic catalysts in reactions. She explained to the audience and comedians that she is trying to discover a way to pull Carbon Dioxide out of the air to use as energy and effectively create a Carbon Dioxide cycle, that would be using CO2 already in the air, rather than adding more of it.
After this was the game “In the News” where the comedians guessed missing words in several news headlines related to Dr. Baber’s field of research. After it was revealed that the first title was “New approach to water splitting could improve hydrogen production”, the members of New and Improv’d asked our expert how one ‘karate-chops’ water. The article title, Dr. Baber explained, was referring to the process of ‘zapping’ the water with energy to break apart the H2O and get hydrogen. The next article title was successfully completed by Noah, who guessed that the UV-light controlled adhesive could help normal people to become Spiderman. The adhesive, of course, could help a person to cling to a wall, and is made to stick or unstick using UV-light.

The jargon game had the comedians guessing what certain acronyms stood for. They attempted to guess what the letters of acronyms such as UHV, TPD, and XPS stood for. They were very close to guessing UHV and XPS which stand for ultra-high vacuum and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy respectively. As for TPD, Diego guessed that it stood for “Tesla-Powered Dyson” which was not corrected.  Noah and Macy managed to figure out that the first two words were “Temperature Program” but, the comedians failed to guess the last word of the acronym. Dr. Baber had to tell us all that the full acronym was “Temperature Program Desorption.”

The fourth game was “Two Truths and Lie,” where the comedians were presented with three facts about Dr. Baber’s life outside of her research lab and they had to guess which fact was the lie. We found out that Dr. Baber was a double major in chemistry and theater as an undergraduate student which Macy appreciated, that she allows students from all majors to assist in her research, and Diego was particularly excited to learn her husband worked on the development of the video game Ark: Survival Evolved.

During the final game, the comedians used their knowledge from the night and their ability to think on their feet as improv comedians to come up with a skit about a day in  Dr. Baber’s lab using scientific-sounding movie quotes from movies in popular culture. In this skit, Diego and Noah played students and Macy played Dr. Baber.  They used the word “desorp” quite a lot, now knowing and amused with the existence of the word. The skit revolved mostly around the UHV in Dr. Baber’s lab, which Noah dared Diego to enter, which he eventually did but not without hesitation. It was quite a hilarious thing to watch, if not entirely scientifically accurate.  

At the end of the night, the comedian’s closing remarks were very much focused on Dr. Baber’s work towards hopefully discovering a carbon-neutral cycle, which would be a positive for the environment and a cause that the comedians found noble. Between the games and Dr. Baber sharing her research goals, the night was overall both entertaining and informative.