At children's birthday parties, Rick Turner
sometimes asks an unsuspecting dad or grandfather for a $20 bill.He
then dips the currency in rubbing alcohol and puts a match to it.As flames engulf the bill, kids laugh and grown-ups gasp. After a few seconds, however, the fire burns out, but the bill remains intact without a single singe.It's magic, right? Wrong.It's science.Mad science, to be more precise.
...The 40-year-old Turner, better known in classrooms and kid-party circles as "Radical Rick," is the founding mad scientist with Mad Science of Spokane, a business that he and his wife, Mickey, own through a company named Rick & Mick's Inc.
For a fee, Mad Science
of Spokane, a franchisee of Montreal-based Mad Science Group, puts on scientific demonstrations for children, but the programs are intended to be as educational as they are entertaining. "You can take science and make it so much fun for the kids," Turner
says."We try to spark their imaginations."Turner
doesn't even need a captive audience to pique peoples' interest.The thin, curly-haired man wears his
laboratory coat-complete with its embroidered "Mad Science
" logo-while running routine errands, and he
carries slime, putty, and flash paper, which burns up with a poof, with him so he
can conduct quick demonstrations for those who inquire about his
says people have stopped him in a variety of places-he once landed a birthday-party booking after attracting a crowd during an impromptu demonstration in a bank lobby, and he's
been stopped by curious parents in the aisles of Costco
Ready to wow
Constantly prepared to wow with science, Turner
has grown the business more quickly than he
started the venture last September-after taking a two-week franchisee course at Mad Science
's Montreal headquarters-as a one-man venture operating out of the oversized two-car garage at his
Spokane Valley home.He
still operates out of his
garage, but he
also since has hired one full-time employee and five part-time mad-science instructors, who along with Turner
, conduct demonstrations in classrooms and at parties.He
says the company's monthly revenues have grown quickly, to $7,000 in January from $200 in the business's first month.He
expects the company to turn a profit for the first time within the next few months, although he
wife works outside of the business and for now provides the family's primary income.Classroom demonstrations account for about 90 percent of Mad Science
of Spokane's business.The other 10 percent comes from demonstrations at birthday parties and planned events for children's organizations, such as Cub Scouts.So far, the company has worked in elementary-school classrooms in the Spokane District No. 81 and Central Valley school district
says, and has worked at private parties throughout Spokane and Kootenai counties.For schools, Mad Science
offers what it refers to as science-enrichment programs, which are designed so that a teacher could adopt them as a science curriculum for an entire school year, although typically they complement a teacher's established curriculum.With some programs, the demonstrations occur during school hours, and the school district picks up the tab.In other instances, the programs are offered after school, and parents pay to have their children participate.Different curricula are set up for children in kindergarten through second grade and for students in third through sixth grades.One lesson involves learning about the three states of matter-solid, liquid, and gas. Children get to make a giant bubbling potion and create smoke illusions using dry ice.
The result is a stretchy green substance that wiggles like gelatin and intrigues grade school-aged children, Turner
says."We make it fun, as well as worthwhile for the schools," he
For example, Turner
has an "indoor fireworks" demonstration that's popular with children who are 6 through 8. That demonstration teaches children about different chemical reactions and the properties of fire.The burning $20 bill demonstration is part of the indoor fireworks shtick.The secret to-and the lesson within-that demonstration, Turner
says, is that rubbing alcohol burns at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and paper doesn't burn until it reaches 450 degrees.Turner
always careful to remove excess rubbing alcohol from the $20 bill so that the alcohol burns off before the paper has a chance to heat up.As with all of his
advises the kids strongly against trying such things at home, and he
always stresses safety when talking to children.While Mad Science
is off to a solid start, Turner
concerned about the summer months, during which the company's school clients literally take a vacation.To offset that anticipated drop-off in activity, Turner
talking to Spokane-area libraries and summer camps about offering Mad Science
also plans to increase his
marketing for birthday parties. The following summer, he
hopes to set up Mad Science
summer camps that the company would operate itself.
has been in business for just a few months, he's
been known in some circles as "the mad scientist" for several years, he
says.Prior to starting the franchise, he worked for 19 years in the quality assurance department at the Liberty Lake operations of Agilent Technologies Inc., formerly Hewlett-Packard Co.
Having grown tired of that job, Turner
began searching for something else.He
first ran across the Mad Science
concept on the Internet about three years ago and excitedly told co-workers about it.They called him the mad scientist for the following couple of years-until he
job to start the venture.One might assume that Turner, with a wacky work name and a repertoire of wild lessons, is a natural entertainer, but he says that's not the case.While working in the corporate culture, Turner says he had a fear of public speaking.At one point, he even joined Toastmasters International, a public-speaking skill-development group, to calm his nerves, but it didn't help much.
With the kids, he
says, it's different."They all yell, ‘It's Radical Rick,' and give me high fives as I walk through the door," Turner
says."They ask me for my autograph.It's great."
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