Scientist of the Day - Beaker
Beaker, a chemical assistant for Muppet Labs, was not born at all, as far as we can tell. We know nothing about his youth and upbringing, although we can surmise that he learned to talk by watching Roadrunner cartoons; that he could not say the letter "B"; that he had a pet turtle with an extensible neck that he learned to imitate; and that he ate lots of carrots. His first apperance on the human calendar was on today's date, May 31, 1977, when he was caught on camera in a sketch being filmed for the "Muppet Labs" segment of the PBS show, The Muppets. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew had been running Muppet Labs for one year by himself, with little success, since he had not invented one single successful product. It was thought, perhaps, that he needed an assistant. Enter Beaker.
Beaker’s first task was to test out a new Honeydew product, magnetic carrots. As you will see if you watch the sketch ("Magnetic Carrots"), Beaker learned right away that he was not really an assistant to Dr. Honeydew, but rather his guinea pig and flunky. In future episodes he would be pinned to the wall by pointed bananas ("Banana Sharpener"), engulfed by a giant amoeba ("Germ Enlarger"), raised to new heights by atomic elevator shoes ("Elevator shoes"), and attacked by a tabby that had been turned into a tiger ("Pet Converter"). Beaker's only moment of revenge came when he was inadvertently sucked into a duplicating machine that started turning out beakers of Beakers who eventually overran the set. But by the next episode, Beaker was back to one once again.
After that, Beaker was rarely allowed out of the Lab. One exception came when he was chosen to sing tenor as a trio of Muppets gave us a memorable rendition of "Danny Boy". Since the other two singers were Animal and the Swedish Chef, Beaker actually came out looking (and singing) pretty good.
In 2004, the BBC and the British Association for the Advancement of Science conducted a poll, looking for the public's favorite TV or film scientists. Honeydew and Beaker won with a whopping 33% of the 40,000 votes cast, beating the runner-up, Mr. Spock, by a 2-to-1 margin. We are confident that, had Beaker and Honeydew been listed separately, Beaker would have won by an even greater margin.
Beaker is on the left in all the still photos above, for some odd reason. It is not as if he had a good side.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.