Mar. 29, 1999
Volume 51, No. 25
Emory pair unlocks the mystery of Peeps
Emory is no stranger to cutting edge research. University laboratories routinely witness breakthroughs that draw national, even international, attention. But no other research project has quite so unique an objective as that being conducted by Gary Falcon and James Zimring.
Like Emory's most eminent and respected scientists, they have garnered media coverage; CNN did a three-minute segment on the two men last Easter. They have also published their findings, albeit on a web site of their own creation <www.learnlink.emory.edu/peep> rather than in a prestigious scholarly journal. Problem is, the work of Falcon and Zimring--sure to be appear in many a footnote in the scholarship of the next millenium--is so new, so groundbreaking, that a cohort of peers has yet to form around it.
The subject of their inquiry? Peeps, those ubiquitous marshmallow chicks proliferating every spring amid green cellophane grass and pink wicker Easter baskets in groceries and drugstories nationwide. Dubbed "Peep Investigators" by the crew from CNN, Falcon and Zimring are pioneers in what is sure to be one of the hotbeds of 21st century research.
"It's really not an issue to be trivialized--collecting these very important creatures to study," said an expressionless Zimring, who will finish his MD this spring.
"Right," affirmed Falcon, a LearnLink administrator for the Information Technology Division. "So few people are doing research on the subject; it's really a very underrepresented field."
Underrepresented, perhaps, but one with far-reaching implications for both Peep and human alike. It had its beginnings on a fateful evening back in 1997, when the two men and their wives gathered for a dinner party, blissfully ignorant of the intellectual dawn that lay ahead. After the main course, Falcon and Zimring preyed on more than the recommended daily allowance of Peeps, and the resulting glucose intoxication opened their eyes to a Coleridgian vision. Before it could be spoiled by any unwanted intruder (like sobriety), the two hatched their first experiment.
"We went straight to the microwave oven," said Falcon.
Pressed for their findings, Zimring demurred. "I don't want to give away too much," he said enigmatically. "We're going to publish some microwave results on our web site soon, and I don't want to be scooped by any of the other investigators out there."
But he did divulge that from microwave effects the two went on to study the Peep implications of other factors, such as low-pressure environments, extreme heat and cold, and various solvents. To test Peep solubility, they began with simple tap water, then moved on to boiling water, then to acetone, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide, but were left dumbfounded by Peeps' apparent invulnerability to each.
Then they tried Phenol, a protein-dissolving solvent lethal to humans in amounts as small as a single gram. Peeps proved mortal to such a substance--well, almost. One hour after plunging an unfortunate Peep into its grisly demise, all that remained in the beaker was a pair of brown carnauba wax eyes floating in a purple Phenol soup.
Cynics among us may dismiss such work. But Zimring knows this is the stuff of Nobel lore. "It's very important to recognize that Peeps are amongst the only species on Earth that we know of that have recently arisen," he said. "There's no evidence of Peeps in the fossil records; you never see, like, cave drawings of Peeps. Throughout history, there's no record of Peeps whatsoever, and suddenly there's this new species out there. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, that is an absolutely astounding observation."
Some of their questions were answered this year by the Just Born Co., the Bethlehem, Pa., firm from which seem to spring the world's entire Peep population. Just Born began selling Peep eggs this Easter, settling (at least for now) the question of where Peeps come from but raising, as Falcon pointed out, an even more vexing mystery: Which came first, the Peep or the egg?
There are many other vital questions Falcon and Zimring wish to address. For example, Peeps enter the world as identical quintuplets conjoined at the hips, and the two researchers will soon attempt a surgical separation "We're a little concerned about the middle one," Zimring said.
Taking a cue from NASA and John Glenn, Falcon and Zimring would like to study Peep aging and space travel, and they have located a six-year-old box of petrified Peeps to use in this study once they secure space aboard a vessel bound for orbit.
Which brings up the matter of funding, something the intrepid pair admit is hard to come by in today's cutthroat world of soft money and scholarly competition. Just Born has not yet replied to their modest request of 25 crates of Peeps to devote to study. Perhaps they could submit a modest proposal to the National Institutes of Health or the University's own research office? Or even to the University Fund for Internationalization, since new Peep data clearly holds ramifications for even the most remote of Third World villages?
"We have no evidence that Peeps migrate across the oceans," Zimring maintained.
"In fact, we had several reports from folks outside our country who had seen our web site and sent us notes wondering what the heck these things were," Falcon added.
"Still," Zimring mused, "the absence of Peeps in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, really speaks for their evolution after the Pangea breakup. How did they get here? We would assume they would be in Europe if the Bering Strait ice bridge were intact when they were wandering..."
Falcon nodded. "These are difficult issues..."
And the pair melted into a discussion of Peep morphology and anthropology so recondite as to flap its wings right over this poor reporter's head. A knowledge-starved world awaits their intellectual hatchlings.