Ellis brings wonder of chemistry to life at library

Published 11:12 am Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Children and adults alike experienced a potent concoction of education and entertainment at the Greenville-Butler County Public Library Friday, courtesy of Doc Atoms’ explosive demonstrations.

Doc Atoms, known formally as Eric Ellis, is a traveling chemist and former librarian with a self-professed love for “blowing stuff up.” 

Friday, he demonstrated that affection in front of one of the biggest summer crowds gathered at the library to date.  And, according to library director Kevin Pearcy, who heard about Ellis’ exploits from the neighboring Luverne Public Library in Crenshaw County, he very likely instilled that same affection for chemistry in the minds of others.

“This was the first time we’ve had him here,” Pearcy said. “And I think it was probably the best event we’ve had this summer, and probably one of the best in the past few years.  He was just highly entertaining, and also educational as well.   He really played up to the crowd and got the kids involved, and they just really enjoyed it. 

“Kids like explosions, and they like things that go ‘boom,’ ‘pow’ and ‘pop.’ And anything that sparks their imagination like that, they’ll really fall in love with it. It was a really good program.”

Ellis drove a bookmobile, which is a vehicle designed for use as a portable library, to communities in Georgia for 10 years, which lent him a wealth of experience in dealing with youth.

When funding ended for his bookmobile program, he struck out on his own as Doc Atoms, a manic and entertaining scientist specializing in explosive chemistry.

Friday, he demonstrated scientific applications with common household items, much to his young audience’s collective delight.

“He hooked up a power blower with a paint roller and toilet paper, and just shot toilet paper into the crowd,” Pearcy said. “And they were just amazed at that.  He did simple things that we don’t really think about—that you can just use scientific applications with just normal things, and he really wowed the kids.”

He performed a variety of other demonstrations on topics including friction, air pressure, molecular expansion and compression, exothermic reactions and electrical fields.

For Pearcy and the library, Ellis and his experiments exemplified the value of practical hands-on experience for youth beyond the realm of textbooks.

“It brings it to life,” Pearcy said. “That’s what we’re about over here at the library; we’re about learning everything, not just reading.  You can read about science in a book, but it’s also good to see it in action.  That’s what we appreciated about his program.

“I love using my imagination when I’m reading a book and picturing my own characters and how they look.  You’re really conducting what Stephen King would call telepathy.  The author is sending communications to you and you get to create it in your head. But it’s always good to see it in action, especially when you’re dealing with things like chemistry and science.”

The library will operate on a quieter scale than normal during the week of July 4, though summer reading will resume Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.