Craig Anderson has been doing science shows for 40 years in Georgia and 10 other states.
His math prowess has come in handy. He has been doing a lot of calculating.
Eight weeks ago, on the first day of spring, he performed for an assembly at Heard Elementary School in Macon. By his best estimation, his one millionth young Einstein was in the audience that day.
A million customers was a milestone for Doctor A’s Science Shows, where the theme is “knowledge is power” and the fun never stops.
Like all of his shows, he put on his white lab coat, mixed in some chemistry, tossed in plenty of physics, loaded his truck with experiments and moved on to the next adventure.
He is 64 years old. If you ask him how much longer he plans to keep at it, don’t bother to “save the date.” His retirement roast is scheduled some time around infinity.
Although Anderson once promoted himself as “Macon’s Mad Scientist,” there is nothing ‘‘mad” about a man with a permanent smile on his face.
When I first met him 12 years ago, I described the method to his madness. His eyeballs don’t pop out. His hair is as straight as a No. 2 pencil. And his countenance is more that of a fourth-grade giggle than a diabolical laugh.
A newspaper writer in Savannah once called him as an “edu-tainer” -- a hybrid of an educator and an entertainer. He even considers himself part evangelist. Children recognize that he loves what he is doing, and having an education allows him to be whatever he wants to be.
“I want to communicate some very fundamental ideas about lifelong learning,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes is that most people believe they are thinking when all they are trying to do is remember.”
On Tuesday, Anderson performed his Super-Cool Science Demonstration for students at Flint River Academy in Woodbury. He offers four other shows, but this is by far his favorite. He estimates he has performed it more than 1,000 times.
Super-Cool is the operative word here. Anderson freezes a banana with liquid nitrogen then uses it as a hammer to drive a nail through a piece of wood. The students got to eat “super frozen marshmallows” (300 degrees below zero) and watch a vapor come out of his nose when he put a handful inside his mouth. The smoke definitely increases the coolness factor.
About the only thing maddening about this mad scientist is his pace. He knows which buttons to push and when to push them. Timing is everything.
“My style is all over the map,” he said. “There’s no common core. Every five minutes, it’s a new subject.”
He may demonstrate the law of gravity with his ring-catching chain trick, then switch gears to the fluid dynamics of Bernoulli’s principle with two empty soda cans and a string. He can make a cup of water vanish as quickly as you can say “mix it with sodium polyacylate in a plastic cup.”
It’s as fascinating as any magic show, only he doesn’t have to pull a rabbit out of a hat. He is not an illusionist. No sleight of hand is necessary. He steps back and lets science do all the heavy lifting.
A born teacher
When he was a junior at Hardaway High School in Columbus in 1967, his kid brother came home from school and announced that he hated science. Anderson volunteered to perform a few science experiments for his brother’s class.
Hardaway’s principal, Dewey Renfroe, and school Superintendent William Henry Shaw later applauded his enthusiasm and told him he was a born teacher.
“It was the seminal moment of my life,” Anderson said.
They recognized something in him he had not recognized in himself.
Anderson graduated from Georgia Tech in 1974 with a degree in textile engineering. The college hired him to recruit prospective students by performing at textile engineering shows. He trotted out everything from demonstrating bulletproof vests to polymerizing nylon.
He and his wife, Pam, moved to Macon in 1980, where she owned Great Impressions on Vineville Avenue. He served on the faculty at Mercer’s engineering school from 1988-2000.
His school audiences range from 5-year-old kindergarten students to parents at PTA meetings and science fairs. He has an uncanny ability to relate to each age group on their level. He especially enjoys his rapport with young people.
“I spend a lot of time picking their brains,” he said. “I have to live in their world. I have to know what music they’re listening to and what TV shows they’re watching.”
His favorite age is fifth grade. “They’re sharp enough to be treated as adults. At the same time, they’re young enough to where you can change their minds,” he said.
In his younger years, he had casting calls for as many as 300 shows a year. He still runs at open throttle, only he’s now more of a long-distance runner than a sprinter.
In June, he will perform for the first time in the prison system when he visits Macon’s Regional Youth Detention Center (YDC) on Riggins Mill Road.
Science is the summer reading theme for the Georgia’s public libraries this year, and he will be travel across the state. He will be at the Perry library on May 28 and Macon’s Washington Memorial Library on July 19. He’s excited about that, as well as opportunities from local summer camps and vacation Bible schools.
“My wife says I will never retire because I’m an applause junkie,” he said. “And I truly am. I intend to do this forever.”
Bravo. Here’s to another million.
Reach Gris at 744-4275.