Bunsen the Bernese and a retriever named BEAKER are the not-so-secret ingredients of a social media science experiment that got a lot of tails… er, tongues… wiggling.
It all started when Jason Zackowski, a chemistry teacher at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer, Alta., Added a Bernese Mountain Dog to his family.
Zackowski named the Bunsen puppy, a playful nod to the breed’s nickname as Berners (Bunsen burners are a type of gas burner commonly used in lab experiments). Then he started sharing photos of Bunsen on Twitter and Instagram.
“Because of the name, and because I’m a science teacher and science communicator, I would send a little science fact every other day,” Zackowski said. “And it really took.
Social media accounts quickly became popular feeds that presented science communication through the eyes of a dog.
Then, like so many others during the pandemic, Zackowski brought home a new puppy.
And the accounts grew even more.
“We added a little golden retriever,” he said. “She’s a COVID puppy and of course we named her BEAKER. So we have Bunsen and BEAKER, they’re the science dogs on Twitter.”
Zackowski said BEAKER’s name in all caps appears in his posts in all caps, which sets his tweets apart from Bunsen’s. The puppy herself explained it on Twitter: “HELLO, I AM BEAKER THE GOLDEN AND I TWEET IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE OMG THERE IS A CHICKEN OUT OF COOP TIME FOR MON…”
Salvation! My name is Bunsen, I am a Bernese Mountain Dog or Bernese Mountain Dog for short. I’m more reserved and tweet with normal punctuation
HI IM BEAKER THE GOLDEN AND I TWEET IN CAPITALS BECAUSE OMG THERE IS A CHICKEN OUT OF COOP TIME FOR LUNC…
As the science experiments progressed, the Bunsen and Beaker couple created quite a reaction. Dogs have over 112,000 Twitter followers (including leading medical professionals, authors and health communicators such as Timothy Caulfield and Dr Jennifer Gunter) and 22,000 other Instagram followers.
“He’s a juggernaut, it blows my mind,” Zackowski said.
The formula is simple.
“We promote science, of course. But also kindness and kindness,” he said. “So we have people with cute pictures, and they learn science along the way. “
“Always work in a story of domestic animals”
Zackowski created an accompanying podcast – The Scientific Pawdcast – which begins its fourth season with a mixture of scientific and animal news.
Each week, the show welcomes one guest, including renowned scientists from every discipline imaginable, from astrophysics and ocean sciences to meteorology and nuclear energy. The episodes almost always include a little walk.
“They come in and we have a very healthy chat about what they’re studying and the exciting things they’re working on, but we’re still working on a pet story,” Zackowski said.
“So these scientists who study dark matter, black holes, bees, ecology – they’re talking about their pets. And that’s really heartwarming.”
The show always ends with an update on its own dogs.
“People really love Bunsen and BEAKER,” Zackowski said. “These are the famous ones, I am nothing compared to them.”
This fame even led to an invitation from the Calgary Telus Spark Science Center to rub their noses with another four-legged superstar – a robot dog from Boston Dynamics.
“I was like, ‘What kind of universe do I live in here?’” Zackowski said of the unexpected invitation.
The teacher showed videos and discussed the evolution of the company’s robots with his students for years, so he was thrilled.
His dogs were less impressed.
“Our Bernese Mountain Dog is a rock star, so he wasn’t pissed off about it at all,” he said. “Our golden retriever is a bit younger and she was very curious about it. She tried to sniff her butt a few times and was puzzled as it didn’t smell like dog.”