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Hollywood Movies Used to Teach Science

Sometimes Steve Wolf gets blown up or is set on fire. But he claims his job is not really dangerous at all. He works as a stuntman and a special-effects expert for movies and television. He says his breathtaking activities result from science. And he likes to share that science with school children.

Mr. Wolf recently visited an elementary school in Manassas, Virginia. He told the students that stunts and special-effects -- the tricks we see in movies -- look terrifying, but are under control.

“Movie fire takes direction. So it'll do exactly what we need on the movie set.”

He told the schoolchildren that the stunts and special effects result from physics and chemistry -- not magic.

“Three, two, one.”

Steve Wolf showed the students how an explosion is created in a movie. He says he loves their reactions.

“…when kids watch something and that makes a connection and they go, ‘Oh, wow -- that was really cool!’”

In addition to performing stunts, Steve Wolf has planned special-effects for television shows. He has had jobs like that for 25 years. But he says only rarely has he been in danger.

“(When you see something that looks like a dangerous stunt on a movie) that takes place, you know, in 10 or 15 seconds -- that's, what you're, what you're seeing is three or four weeks of filming. And we film it in little bits and then we edit it together. So, in many cases the stunt that you're seeing never actually happened.”

The stuntman and his team use fuel, oxygen, heat and chemical reactions. He asks the children what that makes, and gets the answer: “Fire!”

Steve Wolf says he became involved in science education 20 years ago. At that time, he learned that the United States was not rated among the top 20 nations in science education. That did not seem right to him. He remembered that when he was very young, he watched an American astronaut walk on the moon.

So Mr. Wolf decided to establish a program for students. It is called “Science in the Movies.” Over 20 years, he has performed more than 4,000 demonstrations at schools and science events around the world.

“(And in the process of a one-hour show), we are able to show kids over a hundred science concepts that they need to know.”

Kids like Ava Redondo and Mason Simms get involved.

“I want to become a scientist. It was really good. I love that he does the explosion.

I was actually...had my mind set on becoming a basketball player. But I think this special-effects thing can be fun.”

Steve Wolf says when children get deeply involved in learning, they teach themselves.

This story was narrated by Anna Matteo and Christopher Cruise. It was written in Special English by Jerilyn Watson from a story by VOA reporter June Soh in Washington.

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