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Before Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, There Was Dan Q. Posin

Pioneer physicist and science popularizer Dan Q. Posin saw the power of television for education and inspiration. Almost lost to history, his story has new relevance today.

I am a product of that Cold War era. In the late 1950s, I was a young boy living in a suburb of Chicago. At school I practiced civil defense duck-and-cover drills in preparation for a nuclear attack, and at home I learned to use a soldering iron so that I could assemble a Heathkit shortwave radio. I taped newspaper clippings about satellites and rockets to the wall above my bed, and my parents bought me a home planetarium that projected the constellations onto the ceiling of my room.

I also became a devoted fan of a DePaul University physics professor, Dan Q. Posin. Perched in front of our tiny black-and-white television, I watched this elfin mustachioed man prance around a barren television studio, telling fasci nating stories about atoms, comets, galaxies, and space travel. Long before the era of computer graphics, Posin used his considerable skills as a sketch artist to illustrate his programs, and he made effective use of props and posters. His daughter Kathryn accurately described his manner as a cross between Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein, and he was frequently accompanied on set by his cat Minerva, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom. Posin was the writer and star of several educational television series, including Out of This World, The Universe Around Us, and Dr. Posin’s Giants, and his shows aired both nationally on the CBS television network and locally on WTTW, the Chicago public television affiliate. He wrote popular books to accompany his television shows, and I owned several of them. I still do.

Long before Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Brian Cox, Dan Q. Posin was a very energetic popularizer of science who saw the power of television for education and inspiration. He played an important role in developing my interest in science, and he was a beloved figure for many other people my age. Back then, Watch Mr. Wizard was also on the air, and I have some memories of that show. But it was Posin’s programs and books that fueled my curiosity about space and science.

Sadly, Posin’s story is largely lost to history, and it was not until many years later, when I began to research his life, that I discovered Posin was much more than the happy science teacher I saw on the screen.

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