Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Vale, Mr Wizard!

Today’s LA Times carried this obituary by Dennis McLellan.

Don Herbert, who explained the wonderful world of science to millions of young baby boomers on television in the 1950s and '60s as "Mr. Wizard" and did the same for another generation of youngsters on the Nickelodeon cable TV channel in the 1980s, died Tuesday. He was 89.

A low-key, avuncular presence who wore a tie and white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Herbert launched his weekly half-hour science show for children on NBC in 1951.

Herbert used basic experiments to teach scientific principles to his TV audience via an in-studio guest boy or girl who assisted in the experiments.

In explaining how he brought a sense of wonder to elementary scientific experiments, Herbert told the New York Times in 2004 that he "would perform the trick, as it were, to hook the kids, and then explain the science later.

"We thought we needed it to seem like magic to hook the audience, but then we realized that viewers would be engaged with just a simple scientific question, like, why do birds fly and not humans? A lot of scientists criticized us for using the words 'magic' and 'mystery' in the show's subtitle, but they came around eventually."

"Watch Mr. Wizard" garnered numerous honors, including a Peabody Award, four Ohio State awards and the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation Award for "Best Science TV Program for Youth."

Herbert's experiments on the show typically used household items.

As a 1951 Time magazine story noted: "Herbert's object is to show his audience what goes on in the world — why the wind blows, what makes a cake rise, how water comes out of a kitchen tap.

And Herbert had a lasting effect.

"Over the years, Don has been personally responsible for more people going into the sciences than any other single person in this country," George Tressel, a National Science Foundation official, said in 1989.

"I fully realize the number is virtually endless when I talk to scientists," he said. "They all say that Mr. Wizard taught them to think."

I don’t know if it was Mr Wizard who taught me to think, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Buffalo Bob or Captain Kangaroo and it definitely wasn’t school.

Vale, Mr Wizard!

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