Off to see Mr. Wizard

Photo (below) by Max S. Gerber

If ever oh ever a wiz there was, it’s Don Herbert. As early television’s Mr. Wizard, Herbert performed the magical feat of making kids fall in love with science. He became the idol of many a child when he showed how to turn old paper drinking straws into kazoos. “Oh, yes, we had quite a few episodes on the soda straw!” recalls Herbert.

Now a computer-obsessed 86, Herbert is as sharp as he was 54 years ago, when he decided to combine his education and science degrees with his love of acting in a weekly TV show that would provide kids with a hands-on approach to science. Watch Mr. Wizard first aired on March 3, 1951, and continued until 1965, becoming the longest-running Saturday-morning kids’ show in TV history and earning Herbert numerous Emmys and Peabodys (he subsequently had shows on Nickelodeon in the ’80s and early ’90s). Herbert attributes his success to the fact that “I never intended to teach. I wanted kids to have fun, and in the process, to learn.”

His approach certainly worked: He’s been credited with inspiring thousands of young people to go on to careers in the sciences. And now, he just might inspire a whole new generation: In addition to some new Mr. Wizard experiments (www.mrwizardstudios.com), the Discovery Channel is airing a Watch Mr. Wizard marathon (May 21–23), where you’ll see marvels such as “Heat Transfer Tricks,” in which Mr. Wiz shares secrets of invisible writing; “Six Kinds of Electricity” (do you know the differences among magnetic, chemical, photo, friction, piezo and thermal electricity?); and “Sticking to Adhesives,” a fascinating look into glued objects. Can you still make kazoos out of today’s plastic soda straws? “Oh, yes,” says Herbert. “It’s more difficult, you have to cut them longer and play around a little. But it can be done.”

With Mr. Wizard, all things are possible.

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