Taylor, 53, who earned his doctorate at NC State in environmental soil and water science in 1995, is executive director of Mad Science of Delaware Valley, a program for youngsters in kindergarten through sixth grade. Mad Science offers interactive workshops, after-school and summer-camp programs and even manages to sneak in hands-on science at birthday parties and Scout meetings.
It’s not only about turning on kids to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — but also about making America more competitive in the global economy, he says.
“One of the things I noticed when I was working in Europe,” says Taylor, whose earlier work as a chemist with DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition took him to Spain, Germany and Denmark, “was how much better at science and math they are than us in the United States.”
The disparity was so striking, he says, that he and his wife home-schooled their children until they reached high school. The couple was searching for activities to supplement what they were teaching when Taylor discovered Canada-based Mad Science. He opened his franchise in 2002. It serves a five-county area that includes Wilmington, Delaware.
“I have that teaching bug, as I call it, so Mad Science was an easy fit for me,” says Taylor, who taught lab courses during his doctoral studies. “What I found was the same thing we were looking for, and what we were needing, other people were needing, too, so I thought let’s just bring the concept to Delaware.”
Taylor describes the concept as “hands-on, minds-on” science.
Mad Science activities are heavy on robotics, forensic science, chemistry and physics. Kids launch rockets, build bridges and make “slime,” learning in the process about aerodynamics, engineering and polymers. Taylors’ instructors take supplies into schools, homes and other venues and set youngsters on the path to discovery.
Taylor says elementary school classrooms are often ill-equipped for hands-on science and teachers are often uneasy with the subject matter. Moreover, he adds, kids need more stimulation than books and videos can provide.
“Kids have to mix things, build things and if you do not do that with students, you’re going to lose them by fifth grade,” he says.
“Everybody wants to see a spectacular rocket launch,” Taylor says. “Nothing is more exciting to a child than to press the controller and then the rocket goes up 400 feet and comes down with a parachute. Those brains are open to the children, and they’re excited and you could ram that knowledge in.”
Opening young minds is crucial, he says, to keep the U.S. from falling farther behind other industrialized nations in science and technology. He is chagrined, for example, that when he needs help with his computer network, he must depend on a technician in India for help.
A shortage of qualified Americans to fill jobs in science and technology, Taylor says, has been building for years.
He recalls President George H.W. Bush visiting NC State in the early 1990s. Bush toured physics labs and met with leaders of microelectronics companies who talked with him about the challenges of competing in an international market.
“I became familiar even then with how backwards we were getting,” Taylor says. “More and more, we were sleeping while the country of India determined it will be the science country of the world. They started working heavily on making sure all their students are getting what Mad Science is doing.”
He’s proud to play a part in helping America catch up.
“It shouldn’t be a private company like this one doing it,” he concludes, “it should be public education.”
–Carole Tanzer Miller
This article, Wolfpack Nation: Allan Taylor is Delawares mad scientist, first appeared on Blog of the NC State Alumni Association.