Whenever possible, we share stories, written by Fessenden students, that we think would be of interest to both current and prospective families. We hope you enjoy this post written by Max de Saint-Exupery, head of the Journalism Club during his time at Fessenden, and currently attending Phillips Academy Andover.
At Fessy, there are two opinions we all share. One: Congo bars are the best dessert here. Two: Science Bob is an awesome science teacher. Just by stepping into his classroom, you can find it full of scientific gear, hand-made models and exotic pets. Not to mention, his famous experiments, both on campus and on Jimmy Kimmel, are mind-blowingly fun to watch.
But who is the man behind the glasses? Is the inner Science Bob the same as the one we all know and love? I was fortunate enough to interview him and peel back Science Bob’s layers.
Max de Saint-Exupery (MDSE): At Fessy and on Jimmy Kimmel, you are famous in the science community. But what really sparked your passion in science?
Science Bob (SB): Well, I was always a “maker” kid. I would be the one that was taking apart my toaster and other electronics to see how they worked. So that brought out the engineer in me and when I wasn’t doing that, I was outside turning over rocks and logs and looking for critters and building booby traps in my yard. And so, there was a curiosity in science and being a teacher seemed like a great way to blend being a maker and all those aspects of science.
MDSE: Wait, you said booby traps. For people?!
SB: Well yes, but not that I had anyone going through my backyard. I liked building booby traps just to see if I could.
MDSE: How do you think your interest in science has shaped you as both a person and a teacher?
SB: Well, it’s allowed me to combine my passion for science and design. So for example, I get to use my maker skills in my classroom to decorate it and to make it a cool place to learn, while at the same time, I can use my science knowledge to come up with hands-on activities that are hopefully fun and educational.
MDSE: Wow! And speaking of your class and Fessenden, what brought you to Fessenden and when?
SB: It was 2003 when I was living out in Los Angeles and I wanted to return east. I then wrote a letter to Fessenden after seeing them online, without even knowing if they had a position. Fortunately, it turned out that their current science teacher had decided to leave that year. And I’ve been here ever since.
MDSE: So, aside from being well known as a teacher, you’re also a celebrity. I mean, being asked to perform on Jimmy Kimmel or as a matter of fact, in front of any nationwide audience, must be a really daunting challenge. What was it like being asked to perform on Jimmy Kimmel for the first time?
SB: It was very exciting because it was nice that they wanted someone to represent the world of science and somehow, they found me. Also, my first appearance was also my most ambitious demonstration, which was triggering 1000 mousetraps in a chain reaction. No one had done that before and setting 1000 mousetraps is the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever been through. So, luckily, it somehow worked and had it not, I would’ve gone down a very different path.
MDSE: I’ve seen many of the videos of your awesome demonstrations, especially the elephant toothpaste experiment. That one was hilarious!
MDSE: How does it feel like setting up all of these major demonstrations, like the whole preparation and pulling them off on live TV?
SB: Well, that’s the challenge. If I only did three appearances, there are lots of options but once you get to your 10th and 11th, you have to start inventing experiments that have never been done before. So, that’s when I’ve had to develop science-themed Rube Goldberg Machines or I’ve had to invent a Tesla-Coil powered film canister and gatling guns. So, I’ve really had to pull off the once-unachievable. It’s challenging but it’s also fun.
MDSE: You are possibly one of the most renown teachers here at Fessenden for both your amazing efforts and your outside appearances. I personally know students across all grades from lower-schoolers to upperclassmen that look up to you as a neighborhood celebrity. But do you also see yourself as a celebrity?
SB: No. I think I’m a celebrity of the smallest possible kind, so I’m happy that I have the opportunity to appear on television but when it comes down to it, when I’m at Fessenden, it’s all about whoever is in the classroom with me, making sure they’re excited about science.
MDSE: One of the ways I was first introduced to your fame at Fessenden was when you told the entire upper school about when you went to Washington DC and met other icons of the scientific community such as Bill Nye and Adam Savage. But is there anybody, celebrity or not, that has absolutely starstruck you?
SB: Actually, I’ve also met Neil Degrasse Tyson, whom I admire very much. He invited me to sit down with him in his office at the Hayden Planetarium in New York and it was great talking to him about science and education and science on television. That was a really big thrill.
MDSE: That’s absolutely incredible! It must be really interesting to meet all these scientific figures. That would be a dream for many of us here at Fessy.
SB: Yes, we all have the same mission and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to hang out with them from time to time and we all talk about how we want to change the world.
MDSE: Now, if you had an infinite budget and an infinite amount of time to set up ANY experiment you wanted, what would it be?
SB: I did a Rube Goldberg machine before on live TV and it only lasted about a minute once it began working. I would love to build a huge one in an airplane hangar that was filled with chain reactions and chemical reactions and physics in action so I think that would be very fun to set up.
MDSE: Wow, you’ve really got a science museum worth of ideas, Science Bob!
MDSE: Finally, do you have any encouraging words for aspiring scientists at Fessy?
SB: Keep exploring and realize that if you have an idea, it’s going to take hard work to get it done so you’ve gotta keep working on it and revising it. Also, don’t forget to go outside and spend time outdoors and admire everything you see, like the woods or the beach or anything else nature has to offer. It will really humble you and make you a better explorer.