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'Mad Scientist' sparks summer learning
a McKenzie
A Mad Scientist gets some help from the audience before performing an experiment, Monday at the Great Bend Public Library. The program Mad Science kicked off the summer reading program for kids. - photo by photos by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Good magicians don’t reveal their secrets, but scientists are happy to share. Monday afternoon, “Mad Scientist” Erik Pratt entertained dozens of children to kick off the summer reading program at the Great Bend Public Library.
“Some of this might look like magic, but it’s science,” Pratt said, as he pushed a skewer through a blown-up balloon. A balloon is a made of latex, which is made up of polymers, he explained. The skewer was coated in petroleum jelly. When the skewer is pushed through the balloon very slowly, the intertwined polymer molecules are pushed aside and then wrap around the balloon again.
Pratt is a former aerospace engineering student turned professional actor. He tours for the Kansas City franchise of Mad Science Group, which sends educators in lab coats to after-school programs, children’s parties, and libraries. He explained such concepts as exothermic chemical reactions, while keeping the program fun.
“I need someone who is not afraid of fire!” Pratt said as he selected a volunteer to assist with an experiment. Later, “I need someone who’s really super messy — the messiest person in Great Bend!”
There were safety precautions. Pratt told students, “I want you to go home with all the fingers and faces you came with today.” Before lighting a propane torch so he could turn a Cheeto into rocket fuel, he reminded the children not to play with fire at home.
Pratt knows some children won’t remember much of the science he presented in the one-hour show, but some will. “I hope they remember two or three things and then investigate something on their own,” he said.
Before and after the program, children lined up to check out books for the summer reading program. Its theme is “Fizz Boom Read.”
There are also summer programs for teens and adults, all intended to spark imaginations.