Emily Lakdawalla • Jun 13, 2007
In memoriam: Don "Mr. Wizard" Herbert, 1917-2007
Don Herbert passed away yesterday, a month shy of his 90th birthday. Now that I know he is gone, I realize that he -- or his television alter ego, "Mr. Wizard" -- was probably one of my most important role models. I came to know Mr. Wizard through his television show "Mr. Wizard's World," which aired here in the U.S. on the cable network Nickelodeon in the 1980s. Mr. Wizard showed me -- and, I assume, a whole generation of budding young scientists -- that to be a scientist was to ask questions about how things work in the world around you, and then to use your creativity to come up with a way to figure out the answer. The experiments and demonstrations he showed us didn't involve expensive equipment or white lab coats; his laboratory was his house, his lab assistant one of a string of child helpers, and his equipment the kinds of things you could find at a grocery or hardware store. He made science accessible -- an everyday activity that could be performed by everyday people with everyday things. Yet his demonstrations were no less powerful for that. Many of his demonstrations have stuck with me since I saw the show; for just one example, I think of his show every time I use a pencil, pushpins, and carefully measured loop of string to draw an ellipse of precise size and dimension, a trick I've used repeatedly.
The more I think about his show, the more I realize that I've always wanted to be the kind of science communicator that Don Herbert was. Thanks, Mr. Wizard, for everything that you did to demystify science and to help regular people realize that they themselves have the ability to go from curiosity to experiment to understanding about how the world works.
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