Fun Science with Daniel G. Benes – Interview with Award-Winning Science Popularizer Daniel G. Benes.
For so many kids who struggle with learning or focus issues, the learning environment needs to be especially dynamic to capture their full attention and inspire them. That is even more true for subjects like science, which may often be presented in a dry, factual manner. So when I came across the work of award-winning science popularizer Daniel G. Benes, it made me wish that every child could have the opportunity to learn about science, physics, and other technical subjects from someone who has this much passion for them. Daniel has graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog and I’m thrilled to be able to share his story with you. I hope you enjoy learning about fun science with Daniel G. Benes.
Don: How did you develop a love for science and experimentation?
Daniel: From as early as I can remember, I was ridiculously curious about the world around me. My first memory is slamming my face into a chocolate cake. So, yeah, I did that. But that only inspired more curiosity. If I didn’t understand something, I’d stare at it, poke it, prod it, flip it upside down, shake it, and hopefully not catch it on fire, until I found an answer. Sometimes I would catch it on fire. I still do that today, but usually by request.
My favorite thing to do was take appliances apart, especially anything with high-voltage vacuum tubes. When I was about five or six years old, I used my mom’s tools to take apart and “fix” one of her lamps that wasn’t broken. After reassembling it I proudly handed her a bowl of leftover parts and told her that the lamp didn’t need them. I did the same thing with her vacuum cleaner. She was a patient woman.
To this day there are very few objects in my home or workshop that I haven’t taken apart to see what glorious wizardry lives inside.
Don: I’m familiar with the acronym STEM, but in your demonstrations, you mention the acronym STEAM. Would you please explain this term to our readers?
Daniel: Yes, I prefer STEAM over STEM. For those who don’t know, STEM is an acronym made from the words Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Honestly, there are more thorough and inclusive acronyms available, but there’s not enough room on my business card.
Children are natural-born explorers with their curiosity knobs turned all the way up to eleven. A child’s field of research is the outer frontier’s edge of curiosity, where monumental discoveries are made minute by minute. They will mix things together that shouldn’t be mixed, pull things apart that shouldn’t be pulled apart, and will voluntarily yeet any object across a room just to study its flight and impact characteristics and laugh at the crash.
But children are also very good at something else. And this where the A fits into STEAM. Children are born creative, expressive artists and designers. From the moment kids discover that one object can leave a mark on another object (such as a Sharpie on a dining room wall) they will make art.
I’ll sum it up with a little poem I wrote years ago:
“Sure, STEM is cool.
It’s calculated and smart.
But STEAM is much better,
Because it has heART.”
~Daniel G. Benes
Don: I love how you combine your demonstrations with antique aspects of science and technology. How did you come up with the idea of combining antique tools and processes with your work? In my opinion, I would say this definitely qualifies as fun science with Daniel G. Benes.
Daniel: My science shows actually came about because of my love of antique science and technology and collecting antiques. Over time, my collection of antique science and technology eventually became a small museum and I soon realized that many of the things in my collection were way too cool to keep to myself and held such important historical significance that I had to share that joy and history with others!
My show-and-tells started as annual Halloween “mad science” parties at our house. We’d often have thirty to forty cars parked along the road. We even had a guest magician one year. Things ramped up when I was asked to help produce a Halloween Ball at pianist James Dick’s famous Festival Hill in Round Top, TX, where I built and hosted a working Frankenstein’s Lab and performed dangerous high-voltage shows on the hour throughout the event.
That, along with my collection of original Thomas Edison antiques, led to one of the producers offering me the leading role as Thomas Alva Edison in a stage production about Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. That led to me appearing in the New York Times and Texas Monthly. I want to add that I performed all of these events for no charge.
I continued to volunteer for more public events, including Maker Faire Austin and SXSW Interactive. I never said no to an opportunity and worked hard to improve my presentations and I enjoyed every new adventure! Eventually large public schools and public libraries began to take notice and started asking me to perform shows. That’s when I began to accept the idea that I might actually have a real show on my hands.
I started adding state-of-the-art physics and chemistry demonstrations and eventually a script sprinkled with audience interaction and humorous improv. This eventually led to TV and radio appearances and the incredible and humbling honor of being called a celebrity science popularizer and host with an equally incredible list of amazing clients and sponsors on my website.
My shows and events have won awards and I have branched into designing and teaching science enrichment programs, but I have vowed to always include antique science and technology in all my shows and events.
Don: What are your favorite demonstrations that involve math or physics?
Daniel: If I’m being honest, math is my least favorite subject. In fact, if being great at math was a requirement for inspiring kids, I’d seriously have to find something else to do.
As for my favorite physics demos, I’d have to say it’s demonstrating the Bernoulli and Coanda effects by hovering and controlling various objects in the air using both the world’s smallest and cutest electric leaf blower, at only six inches long, and a full-sized electric leaf blower. In fact, I recently upgraded this demo, and now use the world’s most powerful electric leaf blower with over 180 mph winds at 650 cubic feet per minute, about 100 bathtubs worth of air each minute!
Don: What are your favorite chemical experiments?
Daniel: Anything that involves reactions with copper because of the blue colors they can create. However, metals can be toxic. A lot of time and research went into finding some colorful stage-worthy chemical reactions that I could reliably perform in schools, libraries, and museums that are beautiful and exciting, but most importantly, safe. Two of my favorites are known as color-changing potential of hydrogen (pH) reactions, nicknamed the Blue Bottle Reaction, which changes color between clear & blue, and the Traffic Light Reaction, which changes color between yellow, red, and green.
I did not invent these two types of reactions, but I have definitely turned their presentation into a one-of-a-kind unique art form! And there’s the A in STEAM!
Don: You mention that your mom always encouraged you—how did her response to your childhood experiments make a difference? And what advice would you give parents today who have curious children?
Daniel: I’ve actually mentioned my mom in public on many occasions. In fact, there are many videos out there where I’ve invited students to join me in shouting, “Hi, Mom!” at the beginning of various shows. Giving credit to parents is important to me.
My mom, Mary J. Vander Meiden, is a lifelong music teacher, educator, musician and professional classical violinist. She played with Van Cliburn and opened for Bob Hope. I watched her on TV as a kid. She taught and inspired many, many thousands of kids besides me. She was the role model for the enthusiasm that instilled and inspired my love of music, photography, and science, which eventually led to me becoming an award-winning keyboardist/Native American flute performer and World/Ambient music composer (my music is actually played throughout St. David’s Hospital every time a baby is born), an award-winning photographer, and eventually an award-winning science popularizer and show host.
It may sound cliché, but it all starts at home by fostering an environment that invites curiosity and instills enthusiasm for imagination and exploration and does not prevent it or shut it down. Children learn what they live. Inspire them by being an inspiration! One of the best things you as a parent can do is to model your own passion about something you love doing! It’s exciting to be around a person who is passionate about something they do. Never underestimate the value of hobbies. YouTube is filled with comments saying, “I may not understand what you’re doing, but I loved watching you do it!”
Have faith in yourself as a parent and don’t let your own fears prevent you from being an amazing teacher! Empower your kids! Teach them how to use hand tools and power tools, ensure their safety and promote the use of safety equipment at every step, but then step out of the way and let the magic happen!
One of my favorite quotes by Thomas Alva Edison is: “If parents pass enthusiasm along to their children, they will leave them an estate of incalculable value.”
Don: How can parents and educators foster a love for STEAM in kids?
Daniel: Remember that kids are born scientists and artists. They just need the environment, the tools, the guidance, and the encouragement of a “coach” that is willing to get in the game with them, but then get out of their way and understand that bumps and bruises are a normal part of a good game.
Adults often forget that as former children, we are 100% experienced and qualified to teach children. Not everybody is a great teacher. But everybody has something great they can teach.
Don: You’ve mentioned that some kids seem less interested in science than others in your audience. When you notice that a child’s imagination hasn’t been captured, how do you reach them? Would you give us an example of a child who has responded to science with some extra help?
Daniel: I accept the fact that not everything I present or teach is going to appeal to everybody. Besides live shows, I also design and host some amazing science enrichment programs at various private schools for children ages three to twelve. One of the ways that I prepare for success is that on the first day of class I have students introduce themselves and share their favorite topic or hobby with the class. I take note of these things and will often sneak them into the curriculum if someone needs a little extra inspiration.
For example, there was one student enrolled by his parents who didn’t seem to have a lot of interest in science, but I knew that he liked Minecraft. I happen to be a big fan and player of Minecraft myself. So during one of my classes where we were exploring minerals and metals, I handed out a square of aluminum foil to each student and showed them how to hammer it into a Minecraft block! He loved it so much he couldn’t wait to show his parents!
Don: Your work has caught the eye of lots of internet and television stars. Would you please share a favorite experience with us?
Daniel: My love for science and teaching has opened some amazing doors and has allowed me to experience moments that I never dreamed would happen, including being featured in magazines and on television and the radio.
One of my coolest experiences was when I was scheduled to appear on the show, We Are Austin, which was filmed in the CBS building in Austin, TX. I had brought a few items from my show, including my famous original 1905 Thomas A. Edison cylinder phonograph record player.
I had just been escorted into the green room, where guests can relax and have some coffee before the show, when I recognized two of the other guests in the room who were appearing on the same show with me. One was Lou Ferrigno, the original Incredible Hulk from the TV series from the 70s and 80s. The other was Phil Rosenthal—the creator, writer, and executive producer of Everybody loves Raymond! I got to chat with both of them and even took a few pictures.
For me, two major highlights were when the Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno, asked to have his photo taken next to my Edison cylinder phonograph player, with its famous green horn, and when Phil Rosenthal filmed me playing a 120-year-old cylinder record on it and tweeted the video all over Hollywood! The video was seen by quite a few A-list celebrities and is still online.
Another fantastic highlight was when I got to hang out with the amazing and inspirational Adam Savage of Mythbusters and Michael Stevens of VSauce after their performance of their live show, Brain Candy, which we attended in Austin.
Don: How can people reach you to schedule an event?
Daniel: You can contact me for information, booking, and answers to other questions by emailing me at: email@example.com
See a list of my amazing clients and sponsors and links to my various social media pages on my website: https://scienceshows.tech
Don: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Daniel: My passion for teaching has always been less about promoting science for the sake of science and grades, and more about passing along wisdom and knowledge, inspiring curiosity in general, and enriching lives along the way. In fact, my Science Shows Mission Statement is: “To inspire people to want to inspire others, in a style that promotes excitement, insight, thought, and an eagerness to question, and a spirit to explore the amazing world around us.”
I’ll leave you with two of my most well-known Science Shows mottos… “Have Science, Will Travel!” & “Science All The Things!” ~ Daniel G. Benes
Don: Thank you very much, Daniel, for taking the time to share your love of science and your passion for inspiring children to love learning. The next generation of inventors, innovators, and mathematicians are discovering their life’s work thanks to your efforts! I hope my readers enjoyed learning about fun science with Daniel G. Benes.
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Daniel G. Benes Bio
Award-winning science popularizer and show host, Daniel G. Benes, has designed and taught numerous family-friendly, science-based shows, classes, camps, and enrichment programs at schools, academies, libraries, museums, and events across the state of Texas. Daniel’s Interactive Science and Antique Technology Exhibits have been awarded four Staff-Pick Blue Ribbons by Maker Faire Austin and have been featured at SXSW Interactive. Daniel has been featured in TV and radio programs on Discovery Channel, History Channel, NBC, CBS, NPR, and in numerous magazines including Georgetown View, Hill Country View, Texas Monthly, and the New York Times. He is a former two-time Austin FM radio show host and producer with over a million syndicated listeners in Austin and Seattle. He has worked in Aerospace as a flight avionics technician and is a former SAR Emergency Medical First Responder and Fireman. Daniel has taught Outdoor Wilderness Survival/Bushcraft skills and has competed in the Archeolympics Primitive Skills Competition.
Besides being a science showman, Daniel is also a long-time multi-instrumentalist music composer and recording artist (keyboards, synths, Native American/World flutes, duduk, percussion) with two albums to his name. He was the winner of the 2010 People’s Choice music competition for best instrumental. In fact, it is Daniel’s music that St. David’s Hospitals play each time a baby is born! He is also an award-winning nature & wildlife photographer, with clients including Texas Parks & Wildlife. Daniel is a member of W.A.T.T.—World Association of Technology Teachers, and is a lifelong learner devoted to inspiring others.
Official Website: www.scienceshows.tech
Official Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/scienceshows.tech
YouTube Channel: https://youtube.com/dgbnops
Instagram: @scienceshows.tech https://instagram.com/scienceshows.tech/
Booking & Info: firstname.lastname@example.org