Science gets silly, spooky at Cranbrook Halloween celebration

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 9, 2013

 Cranbrook geologist and paleontologist John Zawiskie will once again transform into his silly alter ego, Dr. Kelp, during this year’s Halloween Science event Oct. 19.

Cranbrook geologist and paleontologist John Zawiskie will once again transform into his silly alter ego, Dr. Kelp, during this year’s Halloween Science event Oct. 19.

Photo by Deb Jacques

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — It’s time for ghosts, goblins and scary scientists to gather at the Cranbrook Institute of Science for the annual Halloween Science event Oct. 19.

The popular kid-friendly celebration has long drawn families to the institute for a variety of spooky activities with an educational spin. Between the eerie smoke of the dry ice and the hair-raising power of the Van de Graaff generator, Halloween Science is a fun — and only slightly scary — experience for all ages.

In anticipation of this year’s festivities, the Eagle sat down with Cranbrook geologist and paleontologist John Zawiskie. Though he may be a serious scientist by day, Zawiskie transforms into the kooky character Dr. Kelp each year during Halloween Science. We asked Dr. Kelp what he’s been up to since last Halloween, and what we can expect from him during this year’s event.

Hello, Dr. Kelp. Good to see you again. What have you been up to since we spoke to you last?
“It’s always nice to talk to the Eagle. I’ve been on an expedition doing fieldwork, in order to test an outrageous claim made by British paleontologist Dr. Challenger — as usual, I’m just trying to combat the steady flow of junk science and supernatural rubbish we hear about during Halloween.

“Now I’m back at my compound at the Foundation for Irreproducible Results, in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve also been hard at work at Cranbrook preparing for Halloween Science, and as of this morning, trying to figure out how to unglue my hand from my forehead. A small lab mishap on my part.”

Oh, I’m sorry about that.
“It’s OK. I realized it kind of makes me look like I have just made an amazing discovery no matter what I am doing.”

You’ve been on an expedition? To where, and what were you looking for?
“The expedition involved searching a remote plateau in the jungles of central Brazil for evidence to test Dr. Challenger’s claim that non-avian dinosaurs exist there. Non-avian means not birds. Did you know birds are modern dinosaurs?”

Really? I didn’t know birds are dinosaurs.
“Yes, birds are the modern-day descendants of dinosaurs. I once attempted to create a family tree for the now-extinct dodo bird using an actual tree. I stopped the experiment when I fell out of the tree and realized that dodos were flightless birds, anyway.”

That’s fascinating. When do you plan to share the results of your expedition?
“I’ll be presenting my results at the Cranbrook Institute of Science annual Halloween Science event Oct. 19. That day, I’ll critique Dr. Challenger’s evidence and illustrate what I have discovered in the jungle through slides, video and fossils. As a finale, we’ll be opening a crate sent by Dr. Challenger that supposedly has a live dinosaur in it. That could be tricky — members of PETOD, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, have threatened to protest is there really is a dinosaur in the crate.

“And, what if there is? I’m worried about feeding it, or even worse, housebreaking it. But with science, you never know. And it’s a pretty big box.”

We’re so excited to see your presentation. What else can we expect to see and do during Halloween Science?
“Well, let’s see. There will be real vampire bats and spooky owls, and an owl pellet dissection. Owl pellets are the parts of animals that owls can’t digest, so they regurgitate them.

“Outside, there will be blazing pumpkins. Last week, I blazed a pumpkin accidentally, so you will get to see my new eyebrows, too.

“There will be science for all ages at this event, and we’ll do some crafts, too. We’ll make balloons scream, for instance. Don’t worry — it’s not as loud as when my mom used to scream at me when one of my experiments when wrong.

“We’ll also be racing cockroaches, and keeping an eye out for the ghostly roaming Ninja that wanders the halls of the institute. I will continue to investigate whether or not ghosts really exist, though. I thought I saw one last week, but it turned out to be my neighbor’s sheets hung on the line to dry.

“Oh, and there will be a haunted roller coaster ride in the planetarium. The education team at Cranbrook is still planning lots of fun stuff to do. And don’t forget that great Dino exhibit happening now at the museum, with more than 60 real fossils and casts.”

Any advice for up-and-coming scientists looking to join your ranks?
“Yes. Follow your dreams and never give up. Science is about exploring. A lot of people say my ideas are crazy — like, a lot of people. But they’re mine, and I get to investigate them.

“During Halloween Science, you can do your own investigating. You can discover physics when we shoot pumpkins from the trebuchet. Or learn about biology by looking at a sheep pluck, including the lungs, liver and heart of a sheep.

“So be sure to explore. Even if you get lost a lot, like I do. Oh, and try not to glue your hand to your forehead.”

Halloween Science will run in two sessions, 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Oct. 19 at the institute. Tickets are $13 per child and $2 per adult Institute of Science members, and $16 per child and $5 per adults for the general public. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Oct. 17. Though walk-up tickets will be available for an additional $3, availability and guest goodie bags are not guaranteed without prior registration. Costumes are encouraged.

For more information or to register for Halloween Science, visit or call (248) 645-3210.

The Cranbrook Institute of Science is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills.