Science Guy: Q&A with Kevin Delaney of Museum of Discovery

In case you haven’t heard, Little Rock’s Museum of Discovery made waves when they had their very own science guy Kevin Delaney featured on the one-and-only “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last month. Let’s just say he knocked it out of the park!

Originally from New Jersey, the director of visitor experience at the downtown Little Rock museum has come from a life of theater, writing and — you guessed it — science. Day-to-day, Delaney leads an interesting life, teaching educational programs to students and visitors and developing other programs like “Science After Dark,” the Museum of Discovery’s cool adult science program held once a month.

Earlier this year, he was chosen to do a few scientific demonstrations with Jimmy Fallon after “Tonight Show” producers reached out to educators at more than 50 museums across the country. 

We recently had the chance to talk to Delaney about his early beginnings, favorite demonstrations, his experience on the late-night show and what his favorite planet is. Here is what he had to say:

Q: What piqued your interest in science?

A: I’ve kind of grown up around science. My uncle was a palynologist, which is specifically focused on pollen, and my brother is a marine biologist, so we kind of grew up with a passion for natural sciences.

Q: How did you evolve into your current position as the director of visitor experience at the museum?

A: My educational background is actually performance and writing—I worked as a playwright, director and teacher for a long time. Eventually, I ended up getting involved in educational presentation and interpretation at a zoo, so I got to work with biologists and zoologists– folks like that. So, professionally I became interested in exploring sort of natural sciences through storytelling and interpretation.

I started at the museum because having the combination of communication skills and the science background worked out pretty well. Initially, we mostly focused on natural sciences, animals, ecology and conservation, but because we cover all of the sciences here at the museum, I got the opportunity to work with chemists and physicists. 

Q: How did you end up in Arkansas? What do you think?

A: I grew up in New Jersey and lived in New England for a long time and my wife, who I met during college, is from North Little Rock, so she and I lived together in the northeast for awhile and we decided it was time to move back to Arkansas. Her family is all over the state. I love Arkansas– it’s beautiful. I feel so fortunate to live in such an incredible state, the natural beauty here is some of the best in the world. The Ozark Mountains are breathtaking.

Q: What is a regular day of work like at the Museum of Discovery?

A: It changes from day-to-day. When we do have school groups, field trips and things like that, depending on the time of year, I’ll be busy doing programs all-day long. I also get to work on developing other programs and coordinating events, particularly the “Science after Dark” adult event. That’s become sort of one of my pet projects. It’s never a dull moment.

Q: What is the coolest science demonstration you’ve ever done?

A: I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with a lot of top minds in different fields so I’ve seen a lot of amazing things. But recently, I learned about something called the ‘mold effect.’ First, we have a long chain of beads that is about 100 feet long– about 5,000 beads on it– and when you take that chain and you put it in a jar and you pull the chain out of the jar, the chain is going to start rapidly moving out of the jar and gravity is going to be pulling it back down to the ground. The really fascinating thing is that all of the beads inside the jar are going to be moving up, so what happens is this sort of amazing phenomena where the chain is actually pulling itself out of the jar, but because all of the beads are moving in one direction  and they have the immediately change to the opposite direction, you get what is called the “Mould Effect.” What happens is the chain actually loops up over the jar and it looks like it’s floating in the air. It’s a really amazing physical phenomena. *Check out what he’s talking about here!

Q: Can you talk about your experience on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’? Nerve-racking? 

A: The demonstrations, themselves, can be a little tricky because the environment plays a factor in it. There were certain reactions that we were looking for to have on camera that were sort of difficult to keep consistent, so for me, the most nerve-racking part was making sure the demonstrations went the way they were supposed to. Also, trying to make sure everyone was safe was crucial, too. All of that was making me more nervous than the actual interaction with Jimmy Fallon because he was so generous, kind and friendly, that I was immediately put at ease. He was really fun and is a great person to improvise with and teach because he’s such an enthusiastic learner. How he comes across on TV is exactly how he is. From my experience, the greatest guy– very friendly.

All about Kevin

Q: What is your favorite planet? 

A: I’m really interested in Saturn. Saturn has always had this mystique to it. There are several moons around Saturn that are really fasincating. In fact, there is one found that is believed to be bursting with liquid water– there are geysers all over it. And anytime you find evidence of liquid water, then there is evidence to the support of life, so I’m really into Saturn right now.

Q: Who has been your inspiration for what you do?

A: My uncle being a scientist is always something that stays with me. He inspired me everyday to continue to learn about science and to pursue science, as well as my brother, as well. Steve Mould is someone I mentioned already who I’m a great fan of. Carl sagans? Is a very smart person and he had a lot to teach people and I think we can still learn from all of the things that he has taught us.

Q: Favorite thing to do outside of scientific experiments?

A: I like to be outside– I enjoy going to lake and woods with my dog.

Check out his demonstrations on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” here!

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