Myth congeniality: TV expert discusses his success with urban legends


Can chocolate really kill a dog? Does throwing rice at weddings kill birds? Can you go blind from staring at the sun for too long?

Find out if common urban legends are true when “mythbuster” Grant Imahara shares his experiences with the Discovery Channel series MythBusters. He also will speak about the importance of engineering and science in his career at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 30, in the du Bois Center Ballroom.

“We want to make being a nerd cool again,” Imahara said last year at a University of Wisconsin-Platteville visit.

As part of the MythBusters team, Imahara uses the scientific method to test the validity of urban legends and myths from popular culture. Each week, the MythBusters team takes on three myths and uses modern-day science to demonstrate what’s real and what’s fiction. These tests, which often involve explosions and crashes, result in the myth being deemed either busted, confirmed or plausible.

The lecture is part of the Freeport-McMoRan Lecture Series in College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences and is free and open to the public. The doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the event is non-ticketed with limited seating.

Imahara is an animatronics engineer and model-maker with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Southern California. Before joining MythBusters, he worked with George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic Company and is one of three official R2-D2 operators within the United States.

Answers to myths:

It is possible chocolate could sicken or kill a dog, as it contains a substance called theobromine (a compound related to caffeine). However, it depends on the type of chocolate, the amount ingested and the size of the animal. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate and powdered cocoa are the most dangerous.

Rice is actually an integral part of some bird species’ diets, so there is no risk to birds from rice thrown at weddings. However, some churches have banned the throwing of rice at wedding ceremonies, because of the risk to newlyweds and their guests, not for the sake of the birds.

Direct sunlight can damage the retina causing impaired vision or blindness, so you should never look at the sun. Dark sunglasses will not protect your eyes, not even during an eclipse.