Remembering Mr. Wizard

I lost a childhood friend yesterday. Don Herbert, better known as Mr. Wizard has died.

The New York Times obituary

Mr. Herbert held no advanced degree in science, he used household items in his TV lab, and his assistants were boys and girls. But he became an influential showman-science teacher on his half-hour “Watch Mr. Wizard” programs, which ran on NBC from 1951 to 1965.

Millions of youngsters may have been captivated by Howdy Doody and the Lone Ranger, but many were also conducting science experiments at home, emulating Mr. Wizard.

I was one of those millions, and I want to use my blog to say farewell and thank you from “Dr. Fred.”

It’s always hard to pinpoint what you learn from a good teacher, but there is a common ingredient among great teachers. Mr. Wizard did not merely teach science. He showed me that he loved science and he wanted kids like me to love it, too.

I met Don Herbert once at a science education conference. I told him what I was doing and how he had influenced me to study science. He seemed genuinely interested in my writing and other work with K-12 students.

But I hadn’t realized the depth of his influence on me until now. Today I sign off my e-mails to my young readers with phrases like “Follow your questions!” and “Enjoy your research!”

When I autograph a book, I usually write “Scientifically yours, Dr. Fred.”

I guess you could call those “Mr. Wizard moments.” Some day, I hope to be lucky enough to see concrete evidence that my work has made a difference in young lives, just as Don Herbert could see the influence of his.

Fred Bortz