Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Demystifying the Expert: Dr. Barbara Reisner

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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            On March 29, 2018, the final Demystifying the Expert event for the spring semester welcomed Dr. Barbara Reisner from the Department of Chemistry as our expert for the evening, and in a change of scene, we had the great pleasure of hearing her at Pale Fire Tap Room in Downtown Harrisonburg.  The podcast for her show can be found here!

            The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Alex Jacobs, a senior communications and philosophy major, Marian Duffy, a sophomore art-or-something-related major, and Drew Holt, a junior marketing major.

            The first game that the comedians played in order to determine what the expert studied was twenty questions. Each comedian took turns asking Dr. Reisner yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  After a few questions, our comedians discovered that Dr. Reisner works in the chemistry department, and more specifically, inorganic and materials chemistry.

            With some more open-ended questions, Dr. Reisner explained some of the tools and tricks of her trade, including a brief description of what makes physical chemistry different from other types of chemistry.

            The second game was the fill-in-the-blank game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Reisner’s research.

            These articles might not have seemed like they had much in common, with topics about superconductivity, meteorites, virus imaging, and greenhouse gases, but Dr. Reisner explained how each related to her work in the nano-scale.  In particular, one aspect of the work she does allows us to manufacture superconducting materials, and another allows us to essentially trap greenhouse gases in another type of material.

            Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms mean or terms that are used in daily life but have a different meaning in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians did well in guessing the more technical meanings of the Dr. Reisner’s jargon, with some words being clarified for those who had taken chemistry courses before.  Among the words were bomb, oven, and glove-box, with more foreign words like zeolites and diffraction. 

            Finally, the audience got to learn more about the Dr. Reisner outside of his life as a chemist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that, Dr. Reisner has kept very active her entire life, from participating in numerous sports in her high school career to singing in numerous choirs throughout her life to being an active advocate for the development of a new high school in Harrisonburg.  While she might not have beers created by herself at the Tap Room, one of her party tricks for parties involves spelling with the periodic table, which she very quickly demonstrated with her own name and those of our hosts.

            The final event of the night was the skit in which the comedians played out an imagined day in the life of the research lab of Dr. Reisner with some mandatory quotes relating to chemistry and its reactions from movies and books like The Martian. The skit involved much work with small and dangerously powerful reactions to clean our ecosystem of greenhouse gases, some burgeoning romance between the lab assistants and Dr. Reisner quickly flipping from admonishment to advocacy, and a deep questioning of the intrinsic nature of the field, and of life itself.  It was a final recap of all that the audience, and the comedians, had learned in a brief but fantastical way.

            We look forward to seeing you at the first Demystifying the Expert event for the fall semester at 7:00 PM on Thursday, October 11, 2018, in our usual location at Taylor Down Under, the first floor of Madison Union!