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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 27, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 9
Back On the Airwaves After 43 Years

In "The Master Glass Blower," an episode from the 1950s, a Johns Hopkins staff member shows viewers how he crafts complicated lab apparatus for professors.

Pioneering Hopkins TV program will make brief return engagement

By Glenn Small

The Johns Hopkins Science Review, a pioneering educational television program that was a surprise hit in the 1950s, is returning to television for the first time in 43 years. The university will air four of the original episodes in successive weeks beginning Friday, Oct. 31, with an episode titled "Profile on Poe."

The programs will air on the ResearchChannel, which is available on cable and satellite, and as a live Internet Webcast. All episodes will air at 8 p.m.

Begun in Baltimore in 1948, the Johns Hopkins Science Review and related programs were produced by Johns Hopkins for a dozen years, and more than 700 episodes aired live. The first network program produced by a university, the weekly half-hour show won numerous awards for presenting educational content to the public in a smart, entertaining way.

"These programs are a rich legacy of the early days of television in America," said actor-director John Astin, a visiting professor in the Writing Seminars who appeared in several episodes when he was a student at Hopkins. For the return of the program, Astin agreed to introduce each of the four episodes and to offer closing comments. "This is just wonderful, wonderful material," Astin said.

The brainchild of Lynn Poole, the first director of public relations for Johns Hopkins, the weekly television show was a testament to Poole's belief that educational television need not be boring or dumbed down.

A visual person, Poole believed that if you talked about something, you should be able to show it. In most cases, Poole brought the actual research scientists before the cameras to explain the latest breakthroughs and discoveries.

In this electronically altered photo, host John Astin introduces "The Master Glass Blower," an episode in which he appeared as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins.

In the episode on Edgar Allan Poe, viewers are treated to a critical biography of the dark and brilliant writer, as well as a survey of his work, complete with dramatic readings. The episode was hosted by Professor N. Bryllion Fagin, who had written a book on Poe. In his introduction to the show, Astin fondly recalls having taken courses with Fagin, who died in 1972.

The second episode, "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge," features the legendary Professor Abel Wolman discussing how apparently useless basic research later leads to amazing breakthroughs and developments. An engaging explanation of the work of a university, it will air at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7.

"The Master Glass Blower," which will be shown at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, looks at the now obsolete role of the glass blower in the research laboratory. It features a master glass blower who worked on the staff of Johns Hopkins in the 1950s, custom crafting complicated apparatus for professors.

"A Visit to Our Studio," produced during the height of the show's popularity, takes viewers behind the scenes for a look at what it took to produce a national live television show. It can be seen at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21.

The programs being aired are videotaped copies of original 16mm black-and-white films, which were made by focusing a film camera on a small television screen as the program went out live. Not every Science Review episode was captured on film. Of the hundreds that Johns Hopkins does own, many that have been languishing in boxes for decades are old and brittle.

In order to preserve the programs, the university is currently having the surviving films converted to videotape. As the tapes are being made, a researcher is viewing each of the shows--many being seen for the first time since they originally aired--and putting descriptive information into a database, which will later be made available on the Internet. The work is being funded in part by a $150,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant; to complete the work, the library needs to raise at least $75,000.

To find out how to watch Research Channel programs, go to


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