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Charles W.J. Scaife, 65; Teacher Brought Fun Into Science Classes

September 02, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Charles W.J. Scaife, 65, who used such props as boxes of cereal to make science fun for schoolchildren, died Aug. 24 of liver cancer in his Schenectady, N.Y., home.

Scaife, a chemistry professor at Schenectady's Union College, helped a student develop an experiment to grow crystals in space during the voyage of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. After the spacecraft exploded, he was invited to talk to students at elementary and middle schools about the experiment and the shuttle.

Discovering that some teachers feared science and therefore taught it poorly, Scaife set out to teach students -- and their teachers -- across the country that "science is fun." Wearing a white lab coat decorated with hearts, snakes and equations, he traveled with his social worker wife and their dog to 30 states, meeting more than 40,000 students.

They charged no fee, stayed in teachers' homes, met with teachers and parents at night and visited classrooms during the day.

Scaife entertained and educated students with such experiments as passing a magnet through breakfast cereal to show that it contained iron.

A native of Williamsport, Pa., and educated at Cornell University, Scaife served in the Navy and was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of York in England.

The National Science Foundation partially funded his traveling science education project.

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