Sunday, October 16, 2005

Why Is It So?

One of the early influences that led me to become a Physicist was seeing a program on Public Television on mornings in the 1970s when I happened to be staying home sick from elementary school.

This program was called "Science Demonstrations" or "Demonstrations in Physics" or something like that, and featured Prof. Julius Sumner Miller in a one-man show. In his 15 minute programs, this shock-haired nearly mad New England scientist would perform entrancing demonstrations from a lab table covered in curious apparatus. Sometimes he would dart to a paper pad on an easel to scribble some words and diagrams.

He was more exciting than Mr. Wizard, and far more of a real scientist than showman Bill Nye, having studied with Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study.

I recall those programs, which apparently were filmed starting in 1967, as being in color, and he had no guests. Some of the tapes can still be leased or bought, it seems, for educational purposes.

But I also just found out that from 1963 to at least 1966, he also had produced a precursor to that show in Australia, called "Why Is It So?". It was in black and white, and featured an assistant at times as well as 2 youths to observe the action with him.

And luckily, 4-minute clips of some of those Australian episodes are available for viewing on the web! Some of the earlier episodes are apparently entitled with the more declarative "Why It Is So" rather than the later interrogatory "Why Is It So".

See Professor Julius Sumner Miller in action here!

I particularly recommend episodes 6, 7 and 11.

It's great nostalgia to re-experience his trademark voice and exclamations of "Watch it! Watch it now!"

Another important influence was the chalkboard scene in The Day the Earth Stood Still that I saw on the Saturday afternoon sci-fi movie during the 70s as well.


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