Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In memoriam: Mr. Wizard

Don Herbert, the man called "Mr. Wizard" on his television show in the 1950's and 1960's, died yesterday. Here is the obituary, including this quote that says it all:

"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. They all say that Mr. Wizard taught them to think."

Mr. Wizard would hook you at the beginning of the show with something that looked magical, and then he would teach you the science behind it. I can still visualize particular programs, and I am talking about things from 40 years ago. (There's the one where he dropped a rock into a pail of water, and it caught on fire. Quick, name the element!) I never became a scientist, but he provoked my interest in and study of science as a boy and to this day.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the element is sodium. My chemistry teacher almost burned the school down with this trick.

Paul Levy said...

Bingo, you win! Never, ever mix up sodium and phosphorous. You store sodium in oil and phosphorous in water. The reverse is a BIG mistake.

Lyss said...

Unrelated question-
IN light of what happened recently a CA hospital (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19207050) and based on the experiences like the one of a friend (had a chicken bone piercing her tonsil, made to wait in an ER for 4 HOURS), what's the protocol for who gets triaged or treated first in an ER?

Anonymous said...

Okay so I remember Mr. Wizard and he was cool. But even cooler were little blue boxes with yellow labels called "Things of Science." It was a subscription service and arrived every month in the mail with all the materials to perform some very nifty experiment together with instructions. It is described here http://ecg.mit.edu/george/tos/ . Anyone else remember these?

SFG said...

Bingo, you win! Never, ever mix up sodium and phosphorous. You store sodium in oil and phosphorous in water.

OK, that's it. Mr. Levy really did go to MIT.

For a minute I read 'potassium' for 'phosphorus', which gives that last sentence a completely different meaning.

When I was growing up I saw this video about the elements where the guy does all the alkali metals. The cesium made quite an impression.

Anonymous said...

This can be done with any of the elements from the first column of the Periodic Table (the alkali metals). The further down the column (heavier) they are, the stronger their reaction with water -- luckily my high school chem teacher had some extra potassium around, hoo boy! Let's just say he had to bring us outside for that particular demonstration.

Anonymous said...

My high school chemistry teacher used to toss a crusty piece of sodium onto a bucket of water as a demonstration of the reaction -- the sodium would dance on top of the water. Until the year that he tossed the sodium and realized as it left his hand that it was solid. He yelled "duck", dove for cover, and the sodium went through the ceiling. No more demonstrations.