Retired chemist Snook revels in spreading knowledge about the eclipse

Maurice Snook gives a presentation on solar eclipses at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville, Ga., on July 28. (Photo/Joshua L. Jones)

If there’s anybody in Northeast Georgia who doesn’t know about the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, it won’t be Maurice Snook’s fault.

 

Snook, a retired chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, has been crisscrossing the region in recent weeks, spreading the word at libraries, churches and other settings about the rare event and how people can watch it without burning their eyes.

On Friday, nearly 150 people, many of them children, packed a meeting room in the Oconee County Library to learn about eclipses and ways to safely watch when the moon blots out the sun in a path traversing the continent from Oregon to South Carolina.

He’s also scheduled to speak next Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Athens-Clarke County Library.

Athens is just outside the path of total eclipse, which will pass northeast to briefly cover nearby cities such as Royston and Hartwell.

It’s worth the trip to travel to a place in the path of total eclipse, Snook told the audience in Oconee County.

“It’s the most marvelous natural phenomenon you’ve ever seen,” said Snook, a serious amateur astronomer who built his own telescope as a teenager. (It still works.) He’s traveled with wife, Caren, to eclipses around the world, including Tahiti. His eclipse photographs were in the World Book Encyclopedia for 37 years.

“If you’re in totality, you’ll get goose bumps on your arms,” he said, speaking mainly to the children in the audience.

One won’t pass this way again for another 61 years, he said.

Snook’s been doing his own eclipse planning for two years, and a year ago began contacting area school districts about the eclipse that’s now barely three weeks away.

The eclipse will peak at just about the end of the school day, and he doesn’t want children harming their eyes peering up at the sky. But he’s hoping school systems won’t do what Clarke County did during a 1984 eclipse — keep the children inside.

There are safe ways to look at it, he explains in his talks, such as through special dark glasses, projecting an image on a wall with a mirror, building a device similar to a pinhole camera or using a pair of binoculars to project an image.

Only during the few minutes or seconds when the eclipse is total is it safe to look up with the naked eye, Snook said — which means not in Athens or Watkinsville, where the eclipse will be about 99 percent.

“You think you can look at it, and you can really hurt your eyes,” he said.

He’s done more than educate people about the eclipse. He also bought thousands of pairs of eclipse glasses, which were recently on sale at the Athens-Clarke library and still are at Sandy Creek Nature Center for not much more than the price of a soft drink.

He’s donated profits to the nature center — more than $2,000 so far.

Snook has also helped with planning at the University of Georgia, where Sanford Stadium will be open for the event and the first 5,000 who come will receive a pair of the special dark eclipse glasses.

One UGA faculty member working with Snook, science education professor Julie Luft, launched a fundraising drive that raised enough money to buy every student in the Clarke County School District a pair of eclipse glasses, plus some for students in surrounding counties.

“He’s really doing science outreach the way science outreach ought to be done,” said UGA professor John Knox, who’s also a member of the Clarke County Board of Education and involved in UGA’s planning for the eclipse.

Snook, 73, was a science evangelist long before now, well before his retirement several years ago.

For years, he’s helped organize astronomy nights at Sandy Creek Park, where the public can come look though telescopes to see phenomena such as Saturn’s rings and the craters of the moon.

But he’s probably best known in Northeast Georgia as Mr. Science for the spectacular shows of chemical and physical magic he’s presented to thousands of students at area elementary schools for nearly 40 years.

The shows feature imploding soda cans, beakers of liquids that change from one color to another and then another, things that go boom and gooey stuff that might be elephant snot.

His shows are so popular with children and science teachers that he developed a rotating schedule among 50 elementary schools in Jackson, Hart, Oconee, Barrow, Oglethorpe and Madison counties. He schedules each school once every three years to give the show to an audience of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. That way, every child would have the opportunity to see it once before he or she moves on to middle school.

One of Snook’s most prominent memories from growing up in Hagerstown, Md., is seeing a demonstration of chemical magic, he said.

“I’m so excited about how science is important in our lives,” Snook explained. “I show them how science is important to us, and that we need to recycle things because we are running out of resources.”

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