September 2012

Sidebar: Avanti polar bears

The iconic cartoon polar bear in Avanti ads grew out a joke, says Stephen Burgess, Avanti’s director of research and development. “Walter would go to the grocery store to buy all this animal tissue,” he says. “When you go through the checkout line with 100 pounds of brain, you are going to raise some eyebrows.” The cashiers would ask Walter Shaw what he was going to do with the pile. When he tried explaining he was going to extract the lipids to produce materials for biomedical research, his audience’s eyes glazed over. So Shaw began to tell cashiers and other nonscientists that he was making polar bear grease. Polar bears were an endangered species, according to his yarn, because they’d sit on ice with wet fur, get stuck, starve and die. When slicked up with his special grease, polar bears didn’t get stuck on ice. The joke went down so well, Burgess says, that the company decided to adopt the polar bear as its mascot. Within the organization, the polar bear is informally known as Oscar, after Walter Shaw’s father. —Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay  

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