Science Man puts spin on physics.
Name: Stan Micklavzina
Also known as: "Dr. Stan the Science Man," founder of the Science Circus, an annual extravaganza - April 3 this year - aimed at getting kids excited about the physical sciences.
Day job: He's been a senior instructor in the University of Oregon's Physics Department since 1985. He teaches a few undergraduate classes, but his primary duty is running the physics demonstration room, a cluttered lair in the interior of Willamette Hall where professors and graduate students come for assistance and materials for in-class demonstrations.
Hometown: He was born in New York, the son of Slovenian parents, but spent most of his childhood in Canton, Ohio.
Family: Wife, Diane Sandell, an artist; daughter, Iris, 10, a fifth-grader at Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter School; son, Alden, 4, a preschooler at College Hill Montessori.
Education: He earned a two-year electronics degree from the University of Akron and a bachelor's and master's in physics from the UO.
Origins of the Science Circus: "I've always been interested in taking science out into the community," he says. "I also personally enjoy performing." He's given demonstrations at schools for nearly 20 years and put on his first big public show in 1999.
Target audience: Fourth- and fifth-graders are ideal, he says - they're eager to learn and unabashed in their enthusiasm. But the show appeals to all ages: "A 4-year-old can go, a 10-year-old can go, an 18-year-old can go, a 40-year-old can go," he says. "The point of the Science Circus is everyone comes out knowing a little bit more than they did before."
Show highlights: "Kids love it when something goes boom," he says, though he tries to keep that to a minimum. "Explosions belong to the chemistry department." A perennial favorite is the implosion of a 55-gallon drum. A small amount of water in the drum is heated to boiling, with steam pouring out; the drum is then sealed and the water quickly cooled, causing the steam to condense. With no air inside, the drum is crushed by the pressure of the atmosphere.
Thoughts on science education: While teachers do the best they can, "the lack of funding going to education is tragic," he says. That's why science outreach is increasingly important, he says. With a basic understanding of physical sciences, he adds, "You learn how to question, you learn how to observe."
World Year of Physics: An international coalition of physicists and physics educators have declared 2005 the World Year of Physics, in observance of the centennial of Albert Einstein's three major theories. Micklavzina, who was selected as a regional representative, just returned from a planning conference in Montreal.
"The whole goal of the World Year of Physics 2005 is to try to bring physics to the general public," he says, noting growing concern about a decrease in the number of students pursuing physics degrees. To that end, he's planning several local shows, and wants to design a portable "road show" to take around Oregon. He'll plan other projects with local high schools and other organizations.
Past jobs: He's worked as a two-way radio repairman and a disc jockey, and was a drummer in a band called Yo Vinnie.
Why science: "I always liked messing around with stuff, figuring out how things work." His passion for science intensified in high school, though he never took physics. He had to take biology before he could take physics, he recalls, but he wouldn't do it because he thought dissecting frogs was "gross and inhumane."
Favorite childhood teachers: Mr. Vitinger, his freshman high school science teacher. "He was an extremely good science teacher and a great human being," he says. He credits a professor at the University of Akron, Nathan Cardarelli, with steering him toward a physics degree.
Heroes: Jimi Hendrix
Pastimes: "It used to be music, now it's raising kids." The family likes to ride bikes, camp and work in the garden of their River Road area home.
Favorite recent movie: "Whale Rider"
Current reading: He just finished "The Da Vinci Code."
Favorite television show: "Oregon Field Guide"
Favorite music: Rock, blues and jazz
High school days: He was active in the anti-war movement and got in trouble for having long hair.
Science Circus details: Saturday at the South Eugene High School auditorium. Doors open at 3 p.m. with hands-on activities; show starts at 3:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $4 for students, $6 for adults and $16 for a family and are available at TicketsWest outlets and Ridgeline Montessori, 2855 Lincoln St. Tickets at the door are $7 per person or $20 per family. Proceeds benefit Ridgeline Montessori. For information, call 681-9662.
- Anne Williams
Stan Micklavzina, known as "Dr. Stan the Science Man," uses gadgets and experiments to illustrate the concepts of physics.