Wizard’s Weston visit a blast for youngsters

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The Wizard of Christchurch (and Oamaru) might have a rival.

He is Professor Garon Smith, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Montana, who adopts the persona of a wizard to impart the knowledge of science.

The Christchurch wizard might be able to beat Professor Smith in oratorical ability but he would be hard pressed to match him for his bag of potions.

Professor Smith, dressed in a purple cape and a pointy hat, brought some of these potions to Weston School on Friday.

Among them was rocket fuel.

He gave a demonstration of its use in the carpark outside the Weston Hall, warning pupils it would explode with a blast of fire and a cloud of smoke when ignited.

“It’s made in the United States and they don’t ship it to New Zealand and Australia. Only five other schools (in New Zealand) have seen it – you’re the sixth,” he said.

The demonstration lived up to the billing – so much so that the children called for an encore, which the professor gladly provided.

“I’ve been doing this sort of thing since 1957 when I first got a chemistry set,” he explained afterwards.

He has given demonstrations around the United States, where he adopts the name ‘G Wiz,’ igniting not just rocket fuel, but aspirations in children to take up careers in science.

“A lot of those who see me come to the University of Montana as students,” he said of the shows.

Professor Smith is on a six-month sabbatical in New Zealand and when not giving his shows in schools, he spends his time tramping and climbing.

“I’m a mountaineer,” he said.

Professor Smith visited Weston School as part of the University of Otago’s outreach programme run by the chemistry department.

Dave Warren and two students from the department accompanied and assisted Professor Smith.

“We try and support schools in science programmes,” Mr Warren said.

“Often they don’t have the resources.”

Among the other demonstrations Professor Smith gave were flames turning red, green, yellow and giving off silver sparks.

But the rocket fuel took some beating.

By CHRIS TOBIN