by Michael Leppert
Don Herbert, better known as ‘Mr. Wizard’ to generations of curious children and adults who watched his T.V. programs from the 1950s through the 1990s, saw science in virtually everything. He was truly a man who thought outside of the box and imparted this ability to his viewers. This imaginative, critical thinking was an added dimension to his primary goal — teaching about science and technology. The opening page of Supermarket Science illustrates this by discussing an experiment performed by a professor, challenging a group of students to accomplish a simple task with some objects in boxes or containers they normally come in. A few of the group succeeded; most did not. Then the professor rearranged the objects loosely outside of their containers and had a second group perform the task. Many more of them succeeded because they thought of the objects as they were, not as part of a container.
This idea of seeing objects differently from their everyday function is the underlying principle of Supermarket Science. Mr. Wizard sees vinegar as rocket fuel and an empty cereal box as a camera obscura. He also teaches you how to get an egg inside of a glass bottle – a very old parlor trick – and also how to get the egg out of the bottle! Another trick is to plunge a straw into a potato! In Supermarket Science, Mr. Wizard discusses uses for such household staples as baking soda, bleach and how to test the fattiness of a hot dog or sausage by using a plain piece of typing paper.
Mr. Wizard also teaches about the physics of sound by showing you how to create a pin piano and in the process of making it loud enough to be heard well, he demonstrates the principle of sympathetic vibration, which is what makes all acoustic instruments hearable. Air is set in motion (vibration) by a string or column of air (as in a flute or trumpet) and that vibration is transferred to the wood or brass of the instrument, making it loud enough to be heard. With the pin piano, the pins create the vibration in a small strip of wood. Mr. Wizard adds a larger piece of wood to the small strip and the pin vibration is carried into the larger piece of wood causing the volume to be increased considerably! Once your child understands this principle, s/he will understand the mechanics of natural sound production.
Supermarket Science is an excellent supplemental resource for your homeschool science curriculum; the experiments are easy and the explanations are clear, short and easy to understand – just like the T.V. programs were. I would suggest using Supermarket Science as soon as possible, before you embark upon more weighty studies of science, as Mr. Wizard’s magical approach will whet your child’s appetite for science and technology, creating a perfect atmosphere of inquisitiveness for more dense subject matter. Visit the website to order this and other excellent Mr. Wizard science products! – MjL