The New 'Science Guy'

The future of Museum of Discovery Science Expert Kevin Delaney is blowing up—literally— with a new show on  The Science Channel.

By Dwain Hebda

 

The look on Jimmy Fallon’s face says it all. During the science segments of his late-night TV program, he never knows what awaits him at the hands of Kevin Delaney, director of visitor experience at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock.

Delaney, 36, has given Fallon a ride on a hoverboard, shot liquid nitrogen-filled water bottles all over the set, fired a ping pong ball through a wooden ping pong paddle, and exploded a thousand plastic canisters using nothing more than Alka-Seltzer.

“We start with the science and try to figure out the most interesting way to display it, and also the safest way to do it,” Delaney said. “A lot of this stuff does involve some dangerous elements, whether it’s materials or height or fire. We have to make sure that everything’s safe.”

To anyone who’s ever seen Delaney’s work at the Museum of Discovery, this is familiar fare. After all, the New Jersey-born personality has been pulling such stunts for the past five years where it’s all fun and games until somebody learns something.

“Every experiment is performed to try to learn something,” he said. “That’s the difference between an experiment and a demonstration.”

His spots on “The Tonight Show” and YouTube demonstrate a fun mashup of Bill Nye’s geeky cool and Mythbusters’ appetite for destruction. But Delaney brings another element that neither of these predecessors share—a sense of wonder that’s a holdover from an early fascination with science. This approachable, genuinely sweet disposition gets people past the heavy beard and long hair that make him look more biker than Beaker.

“I’ve always been interested in science,” he said. “My uncle was a palynologist [a scientist that studies pollen and spores], which I didn’t learn about specifically until much later. It was easier for us to think of him as a paleontologist; to us, he dug up dinosaur bones, which he occasionally did. My brother and I were both instilled with a love of science really early on.

“But I’m also an artist. I’ve been a writer and performer forever, so I gravitated more towards that. But because I’ve always had this interest in science, it always kind of informed everything that I did creatively.”

Little Rock has learned to share its star as the “Tonight Show” gig led to “Street Science” a 30-minute weekly program that debuted Jan. 11 on The Science Channel. The show finds Delaney recreating many of his Little Rock specialties on a grand scale, such as filling an automobile with “elephant toothpaste” and blowing up orange road construction barrels full of ping pong balls. Along the way, he uses high-speed cameras and thermal imaging to demonstrate the various forces at work.

“Aside from the incredible visuals, getting to use thermal cameras and stuff like that, we’re able to really have fun with these audiences, because we’re engaging them in this live kind of demonstration,” he said.

“Some of this is on a scale that I don’t know if it’s been done before. Elephant toothpaste is something you’ll see at the museum, at other museums and classrooms all over the place, but I believe we were the first people to use a Volkswagen bug, as far as I know. If there’s somebody else, let me know.”

“Street Science” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Central Time on The Science Channel, sciencechannel.com.