R.I.P. Don Herbert

Oh you’ve never hear of Don Herbert? Well maybe you’ve heard of Mr. Wizard? The science guru for generations of kids died yesterday at his home. He was 89 years old.

I remember watching his show on Nickelodeon after getting home for school. I think it was teamed up with After School Special (the one where the manequin came to life) and possibly Pin Wheel or maybe Maya the Bee. Either way, Mr. Wizard’s World rocked the house.

So it came as a surprise to learn that Don Herbert had been doing the show back in the 50’s and 60’s. He had no formal science training, he was a bomber pilot in World War II and he was featured on Hollywood Squares. It goes without saying that his influence and loss will be felt by legions of people all over the country.

His hallmark was the use of common objects to illustrate scientific principles. He cut out sections of paper plates to illustrate an optical illusion, ran smoke through a soda straw to make air currents visible and shined a flashing light to represent the strength of radiation.

?If you used scientific equipment that?s strange to the child, it?s not going to help him or her understand,? Mr. Herbert told the Voice of America?s ?Our World? program in 2006. ?So we used everyday equipment.?

Mad magazine and the comedic pairing of Bob and Ray spoofed Mr. Herbert, to his delight. In fact, his experiments sometimes did go awry.

?Once I was supposed to pour two colorless fluids into a glass, and by the count of five the fluid was supposed to turn black,? he once recalled. ?It was a complicated experiment in which many factors, like temperature and acidity, had to be just right for the fluid to turn black. Well, I think I counted to 20 before it changed. But even when things went wrong, we would always explain why.?

Mr. Herbert continued to spread knowledge of science in his final years, reprising his original shows on DVDs.

He will be missed, the least of all by us here in the Oyster offices.

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