PBS’ Science Project : ‘Newton’s Apple’ begins its 10th year of making learning also interesting


David Heil, the host of KCET’s science-oriented “Newton’s Apple,” is looking intently at his left index finger. He’s talking about a beekeeper.

“He let the bee just land on his finger, sting him, and then plucked the bee off and left the stinger in there!” Heil says enthusiastically.

“And the stinger just makes this incredible plunging kind of action, really getting the poison deep into his flesh. We got the camera in for this super close-up, which fills the screen. It was both really frightening and yet, exciting, to actually see that happening.”


Heil smiles, satisfied. He is finished telling the tale of a beekeeper immune to bee poison and accustomed to stings who allowed the “Newton’s Apple” cameras to capture what is often considered a horrible--and painful--thing.

The bee segment is a good example of how Heil sees the show--it allows viewers to get another angle, rather than the obvious. Viewers will also get an answer to questions and issues that they encounter daily--issues of science, which he emphatically points out, are everywhere.

While Heil comes from a science background--he is associate director of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry--he emphasizes that the show’s producers are not, which enables them to give the perspective of the average, non-scientific Joe.

Heil believes that his position on the show is one of “a learner,” saying he’s not like Don Herbert of ‘Mr. Wizard’ fame who just looked over his student’s shoulders while they did the experiments. “I find myself next to serious experts in whatever field we’re discussing, so I am always in the position of asking questions of them.”

Heil hopes to eventually add a segment in which he walks around a house and explains how everyday items and appliances are applied to science.

The philosophy behind the show is that science shouldn’t be viewed as strictly academic. The show aims to make science accessible.


“Science is fun and everybody likes to have fun,” he says. “Everybody can do science and have fun with it. There is magic to everyday objects.”

This week “Newton’s Apple” is entering its 10th season, which is unprecedented for a science show, says Heil, who joined the series in 1988.

Unlike the show’s earliest days, Heil and field-reporter Peggy Knapp take many shows out on location.

During the upcoming season, Heil journeys to Antarctica, while Knapp is at the opposite hemisphere, near the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

Also included this season will be special Hollywood segments in which Heil does movie stunts and Knapp is transformed into a monster.

Heil will also visit with naturalist Nancy Gibson and her exotic wild animals.

Although “Newton’s Apple” has won an Emmy for outstanding children’s show, Heil says that 80% of the audience is older than 18. Junior-high and middle-school children are the target audience, but elementary school-age students watch too.

Included on the show is the returning segment “Science Try-Its,” which offers experiments that viewers can try at home.

Also returning: “Science of the Rich and Famous,” which features segments with such celebrities as Ted Nugent explaining feedback, or Dweezil Zappa explaining how things are recorded on tape.

The “Street Smarts” segments are transitional segments where camera crews do impromptu interviews with people on the street.

“Newton’s Apple” gives viewers an introduction to science through experiments and travels, as well as the opportunity to see and learn about things that they normally might not have thought of; half of the topics are based on viewer questions and letters and half are staff generated. Some ideas might have come from the covers of news magazines, to which children generally don’t have access.

“During a regular season we can get up to 100 letters a week,” Heil said. Many of the issues brought up are addressed in future shows. Younger children often ask questions about dinosaurs, he said. Junior-high age students ask about space. Adults frequently write in with health and medical questions.

In honor of the season premiere--and 10th season--”Newton’s Apple” first show will do an in-depth look at how television works.

“Newton’s Apple” airs Sundays at 5 p.m. on KCET. It also airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on KPBS and 7 p.m. on KVCR.