From the Chair
Mr. Wizard - Don Herbert - died recently. To a large number of us, Saturday mornings in the 1950's included visits to his TV home for experiments on science. I still remember how he demonstrated the compressive strength of glass by standing on a window pane. He showed us how the impulse from a CO2 pellet gun canister could propel a bowling ball hanging from a string, while a heavy blow from a hammer left the ball almost motionless. I also remember looking forward to Mr. Wizard's monthly newsletter, which described science activities I could try. One article even explained why a helium balloon floating in an automobile moves towards the right during a left turn.
Possibly no American since Benjamin Franklin has personally demonstrated science to the public in such interesting ways and to such notable effect as did Don Herbert. An obituary in Time Magazine reported that the "Watch Mr. Wizard" show "in the '60's and '70's was cited by half the applicants to Rockefeller University, the renowned biomedical institute, as a reason for their early interest in science."
Of course, in the Sputnik era Mr. Wizard was doing the right thing at the right time. Science was critical to the national economic and defense needs. He took advantage of the possibilities of the new medium of TV making direct connections to the viewers. To his credit Mr. Wizard spoke to children as if they had the ability to understand science. The science was good stuff - surprising, well-explained and rigorous. There were participatory investigations and gee-whiz and many meaningful science insights.
As APS members we are the ones who succeeded in fulfilling the dream. We work with the curiosity, invention and wonder that Mr. Wizard showed us, and we get paid for it. But Mr. Wizard's big message was that the wonder of investigation is meant for us to share, in particular with the generation that will follow us.
This issue of the Forum on Education newsletter highlights issues that will affect the next generation of scientists - new science curricula and approaches to teacher preparation. Scientists like us should be aware of and support such initiatives. We can lobby for better education policies and curricula and spread the word about science.
Just as in the 50's there are many good civic reasons for us to support K-12 science education. Today we need scientists and engineers for national competitiveness, for the health of the science-technology enterprise, for the economic welfare of our citizens and children. Mr. Wizard's life reminds us that, in the end, these global goals are reached by individuals, like you and I, who were lured into science by wonder and curiosity. If the scientific enterprise is worth doing, it is worth passing on to the next generation. Please read the articles. Please help a child to see the wonder.
David Haase, Department of Physics, North Carolina State University . is Chair of the Forum on Education (firstname.lastname@example.org).