Yesterday, I had a chance to catch up with an old friend. In actuality, he is my friend that I have known longer than any other friend in my life.
I was 4 years old, growing up in Fairfield, Connecticut, when the Simon family moved in next door to us. There were three children in the family. Their middle child, Eric, was a tall and talkative 6 year old who had a knack for making up games and contests that I found enthralling. To me (a 4 year old boy with no brothers) Eric was about as entertaining and fun to be around as could have been, and although many of my recollections are fuzzy, some of the ones that are still vivid in my grey matter are those of my times spent with, and learning from, Eric.
As I look back on those times and the years that followed, I realize that Eric has had a profound effect on me and my interest in science. He was my first introduction to science, even though I had no idea of what science was at the time. For as much fun as Eric was as a friend to play games with, I noticed that he possessed a curiosity and interest in “sciencey things”. I can remember he had set up in his basement up one of those kits that was “a hundred and one experiments in a box”. It was an electrical activity kit, with wires and conductors to making motors work, fans spin, and causing little lights to turn on and off. I recall some kind of junior chemistry set as well, tubes and pans and hoses the other trappings of early chemistry. And I certainly recall Eric’s magic kits and the tricks he would practice and perform for his friends in the neighborhood.
As a young boy, I had curiosities about what made the world work. Eric made no formal efforts to teach me science, but I would later find myself remembering interesting facts that Eric had brought up, or applying simple math exercises that Eric utilized, all as an extension of the games and activities that we had played. So as it turns out, Eric was my first exposure to the world of science and broader discovery. You might argue that he was my first science teacher, and it is no surprise at all that Eric’s career would be in teaching science.
Dr. Eric Simon is currently an associate professor of biology at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. He teaches introductory biology to science majors and non-science majors, as well as upper-level courses in genetics, microbiology, and molecular biology. He’s earned a B.A. in biology and computer science and an M.A. in biology from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University. Currently, he is working toward an M.S.Ed. in educational psychology. His research focuses on innovative ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning in the science classroom, particularly for non-science majors. Dr. Simon is also a co-author of ‘Essential Biology’, ‘Essential Biology with Physiology’ and ‘Biology: Concepts and Connections’.
For a further peek into Eric’s expertise, here is an interview with Eric from 2003, courtesy of Pearson Education.
Like many of us, Eric is also a skeptic. Though not a fixture or an active participant in any official skeptical circles, he cringes as fiercely as anyone I’ve known at the thought of creationism being taught as science in schools, and he is a champion of the teaching of the scientific method to everyone, not just science students. This is a passion of his that makes him, and others like him, one of the many unsung heroes in the advancement of skepticism. He is a fighter on our side in our never ending efforts to beat back the forces of anti-science.
His brilliance and his logic and his wit are as sharp as anyone I’ve ever encountered. His love for his work is only eclipsed by his love for his wife, children, siblings, and parents. As an educator, Eric is a serious scientist who is down-to-earth, friendly, engaging, and has the perfect disposition for teaching young minds. As a social creature, Eric is a huge fan (in the truest root of the word ‘fanatical’) of professional sports teams (Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics) and is a great admirer of a vast array of music with a collection to back it up.
We all should be so fortunate to have had a childhood friend who has been, and continues to be, such a great teacher.