As 200 chattering sixth-graders fill the room, Mindia Stephenson is behind a long table setting up for the morning's experiments.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As 200 chattering sixth-graders fill the room, Mindia Stephenson is behind a long table setting up for the morning's experiments. In her white lab coat she certainly looks like a scientist, and at the moment she's serious and focused.
Her coat, however, proclaims her to be "Magnetic Mindia." Once the assembly starts, it's obvious that the name suits her.
"All right! How you guys doing?" she shouts.
"Good!" the kids here at Platte City Middle School respond.
As Magnetic Mindia ("Min-DEE-uh") goes over the rules, she provides yet more proof that she's not your average science nerd.
"I like to have fun!" the animated 29-year-old tells the sixth-graders. "I like to be silly! And I'm very loud!"
Over the next 45 minutes or so she'll replicate a dinosaur sneeze, spraying the audience with "snot" (wildly popular). Blow out a candle several feet away by beating on a trash can with a hole in the bottom. Create a ball of fire in a plastic bottle. And more.
The kids love her, of course. And they're not alone. The principal, Chris Miller, cites her passion, enthusiasm, sense of humor and knowledge of science — "qualities we value and often see in our best teachers."
Stephenson, of south Kansas City, says she comes from a family of educators, although she's not interested in becoming a teacher. But she's clearly an educator anyway.
The company she works for, Mad Science, doesn't require its performers to have science backgrounds — theater experience is more important — but Stephenson actually does. She has degrees in biology and psychology from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., but when she's not being a mad scientist, she's taking classes at National American University.
Her goal: to become a nurse practitioner. The first part of that is becoming a registered nurse.
From the time Stephenson was little, she wanted to be a doctor. She decided when she was just 7 that she'd become an anesthesiologist.
Back then she probably couldn't say the word (she'd heard it on TV, maybe from Bill Nye the Science Guy), but she did know what the job was: "put people to sleep for lots of money."
She later concluded that becoming a nurse practitioner would give her more contact with patients than if she were a physician.
Still, if the nursing thing doesn't work out, it's easy to imagine Stephenson getting her own science show on TV. Not only has she worked for Mad Science for four years, but she also has TV experience. Starting at age 9, she was featured on the "What's Up Network," shown Saturday mornings on KSHB-TV. A highlight for her: interviewing "Blossom's" Joey Lawrence.
As a kid she was also a dancer, performing in programs run by Alvin Ailey and the State Ballet of Missouri (now the Kansas City Ballet).
Mad Science does a lot of school assemblies, of course, but kids birthday parties and corporate events as well. Dave and Kathy Smythe have the Mad Science franchise in Kansas City (www.madscience.org/kansascity) as well as Springfield's, so Stephenson also travels there for shows. She has worked for Mad Science in St. Louis, too.
"She connects with the kids," Kathy Smythe says. "She can read her audience and know how to get them excited."
As for Magnetic Mindia's favorite experiment, that would be the one involving a hard-boiled egg, fire and a flask. By creating a vacuum, the egg gets sucked into the flask.
And did we mention the egg is named Eggbert? Thanks to Eggbert's popularity, Stephenson is used to traveling with eggs.
Sometimes she forgets and leaves one in a pocket.
Sometimes she forgets and wears her lab coat into the grocery store.
An absent-minded mad scientist with a magnetic personality: sounds like the perfect formula to make science fun for kids.