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Monday, September 21, 2009

Mr. Wizard

As a child, I loved science experiments. If you read this website regularly, however, you know that my efforts were not always successful :)
Source materials were limited to an occasional viewing of Mr. Wizard, books I could cull from the local library, and whatever primitive experiments I could cook up from my own mind. A chemistry set, received as a Christmas gift, was a rare and highly coveted possession.

Hence, at the time, the appeal of DIY (do-it-yourself) was huge, long before the phrase was co-opted and marketed. To take household items and create novel effects is magic, for a child as well as an adult. Many counter-intuitive results can be had from ordinary ingredients. Let a child do it themselves, and you have a formula for wonder and awe.

Unlike the San Gennaro festival, e.g., many of New York City's most interesting events do not have a centralized location. You could be in a neighborhood where numerous concurrent events are going on and not even be aware that they are part of a major festival. See Math Midway, part of the World Science Festival, here.

This scenario replayed itself on Sunday afternoon, when I discovered that the annual 3-day Conflux festival was essentially over. Produced by Glowlab in New York since 2003, "Conflux is an art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space."
So I was quite pleased to run into a DNA Extraction Party while strolling through Tompkins Square Park farmer's market. I was not aware that DNA could be extracted from fruit (or other living things) using common household ingredients - meat tenderizer, dish washing detergent, salt, alcohol and a coffee filter. Note the clump of DNA between the fork and chopstick in the photo. This experimental display was produced by DIYBio NYC.

A very young child would likely not fully appreciate the outcome. In the experiments I did as a child, results were immediately obvious and did not require an understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid, genetic instructions, and a double helix. However, this is 2009, and the bar has been raised. But the spirit of Mr. Wizard lives on :)

Note: Mr. Wizard (Donald Jeffrey Herbert, July 10, 1917 – June 12, 2007),  hosted the Watch Mr. Wizard TV program, which ran on NBC from 1951 to 1965. In 1983, Herbert created Mr. Wizard's World, a faster-paced show on the cable channel Nickelodeon, running until 1990 and in reruns until 2000.


Mirela said...

Very cool! We used to make these science-for-kids experiments at our department too! They loved the eating ice-cream-comets made with liquid nitrogen... :-) and we loved seeing those bright eyes and happy faces enjoying the science we were presenting. I miss that! Thanks for reminding me how great the science 'fairs' are

Thérèse said...

Experiments are fun! And we as a family experiment the ones posted in the "Wired" magazine... they are so much fun.