by Donald E. Simanek


These lectures are fully illustrated with slides, the pictures being integrated into the presentation. A typical show may have 150 slides.

I no longer give slide show presentations. Some of these have been reworked as PowerPoint presentations. But in any case I am no longer able to travel large distances to give talks. So this list is primarily of historic interest.

In this listing, links are provided to similar content that appears on my web pages. The web versions don't have anywere near the number of pictures of their slide-show counterparts.

If you are interested in booking any one of these lectures, contact me at the address shown at the right.


MISTAKES: Historical goofs and blunders of science: Mistakes in (G-1) Science, (G-2) Physics, (G-3) Astronomy, (G-4) Chemistry.

G-5 TEXTBOOK MISTAKES. Misleading, incomplete, and just plain wrong textbook explanations. See: Physics Abused.

G-6: HOAXES IN SCIENCE. The New York Sun moon hoax, Beringer's stones, Piltdown Man, The Cardiff Giant, etc. Previews of some parts of this show: Beringer's stones, Arthur Conan Doyle and the fairies, The Cardiff Giant, John Worrell Keely.

G-7: GULLIBLE SCIENTISTS. A study of scientists who let their objectivity lapse; who let their 'will to believe' warp their judgment. Includes; Percival Lowell and the `canals' of Mars, N-rays, M-rays, etc.

G-8: IT'LL NEVER WORK. A historical look at how new scientific ideas are received. Sometimes people jump on the bandwagon prematurely, sometimes they deride and discredit the new idea. Some make fools of themselves in the process, especially when predicting the future course of science. See: It'll Never Work (no pictures or commentary).


P-1: ASTROLOGY. History of astrology and recent attempts to give it a 'scientific' rationalization.

P-2: HISTORY OF ALCHEMY. Alchemy was more than a primitive science, it was part of an all-embracing mystical philosophy of the universe.

P-3: THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF PSEUDOSCIENCE. Circle squaring, numerology, ether theories, kooky cosmologies.

P-4: PYRAMIDOLOGY. A history of pseudoscientific obsession with 'hidden knowledge' supposedly coded in the Gizeh Pyramids and other ancient structures.

P-5: IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS. The physicists' view of an orderly and lawful universe is unappealing to those who long for magic and miracles. Much of what we categorize as `pseudoscience' is generated by those who search for loopholes in physical laws. Topics include: magic and the occult, perpetual motion seekers, and transcendental meditation.

P-6: THE SHAPE OF THE EARTH: FLAT OR HOLLOW? It is well known that the flat earth society still exists. Hollow earth geodesy was a popular idea a century ago. Adherents of both views have some common motivations and methods of arguing for their beliefs. Read Bob Shadewald's essay The Flat Out Truth to learn something about it. Also see my pages Turning the Universe Inside-Out, The Mystery of the Tamarack Mines Plumb Lines, and Is the Earth a Round, Spinning Ball.

P-7: MATHEMATICAL FREAK SHOW. Delusions and perversions of mathematics, including the circle squarers, pi truncators, biblical numerologists, and pyramidiots. [under development]


D-1: TOYS, TRICKS AND TEASERS. A tribute to Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" columns and books. Here's a small sample.

D-2: THE PHYSICAL PRINCIPLES OF UNWORKABLE DEVICES. A careful analysis, with audience participation, of unworkable devices, including classic perpetual motion machines. Even if you were given perfect materials, frictionless pulleys and bearings, etc., they still wouldn't work. One doesn't need to assert laws of thermodynamics to show that—just freshman physics. For a sample, see The Museum of Unworkable Devices. Another sample: John Worrell Keely, 19th century con artist who claimed his machines tapped etheric energy.

D-3: DEVIOUS DEMOS. Physics demos which seem to defy common sense, and logic. See my much larger list of Physics Demos.

D-4: PHYSICS: DO YOU UNDERSTAND ALL YOU KNOW ABOUT IT? Especially for undergraduates who have had at least an introductory physics course. An interactive exploration of common misconceptions about physics, and how textbooks contribute to them. Topics may include weight, centripetal force, polarization, refraction, photons and interference, relativistic deceptions. Test your understanding now.


B-2: ALBERT MICHELSON, THE MAN WHO MEASURED LIGHT. The life and work of Michelson, and a history of an era when physicists believed that all of space was filled with a 'luminiferous ether' and sought evidence to confirm that belief.

B-5: NIKOLA TESLA. An electrical pioneer and a genuine eccentric. Lately we hear much wild speculation about his work.

[See also H-5, which includes biographies of Franklin, Lavoisier, Count Rumford and Mesmer.]


H-1: MACHINES, MATHEMATICS AND MUSIC; THE HISTORY OF PROGRAMMED CONTROL. The history of the computer is interwoven with the history of automata and mechanical musical instruments. Includes pictures, and taped musical examples.

H-2: SCIENTISTS AND THE SPIRITS. Spiritualism attracted some eminent scientists: Zöllner, Crookes, Wallace, and Lodge. A lively episode in Victorian science as believers clashed with debunkers. Preview: Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism and Fairies.

H-3: THE HEYDAY OF SPIRITUALISM. This show is for audiences of professional and amateur magicians, (magic clubs, etc.) History of spiritualistic deceptions, the methods used by fraudulent mediums, and the magicians who exposed them.

H-4: PERPETUAL MOTION - SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY CRISIS? The quest for perpetual motion played an important role in the development of mechanics and thermodynamics. Some present-day independent thinkers still pursue this goal, undaunted by skepticism or even by the laws of thermodynamics. See D-2. For a sample, see The Museum of Unworkable Devices.

H-5: EIGHTEENTH CENTURY SCIENCE. Mini-biographies of several 18th century scientists: Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier, Benjamin Thompson, Anton Mesmer—their lives and times.

H-6: LEGENDS, LIES AND CHERISHED MYTHS OF SCIENCE HISTORY. Ever since Archimedes ran naked down the street yelling "Eureka, I've found it" mythical historical anecdotes have been the stuff of romanticized biographies and footnotes in textbooks. Many, when examined, turn out to be fiction, but sometimes the facts are more interesting than the fables. Who did invent the Wheatstone bridge? Morse Code? L'Hospital's rule? The telescope? Probably not who you thought. Did an apple really konk Newton on the Head? And who is buried in Grant's Tomb? See: Science History Quiz.


J-1: PHYSICS FOLLIES. A diverse collection of humorous nonsense; the lighter side of science. May include: How to achieve immortality in science, scientists' remains, research, and at least one biography (J-2 or J-3 below.)

J-2: KONRAD FINAGLE, JUSTLY NEGLECTED SCIENTIST. Finagle's story is so incredible it is not to be believed. He invented the Finagle (fudge) factor, rubber graph paper, etc. Fully illustrated with authentic historic pictures. (15 minutes) [May be included in J- 1 above.]

J-3: PHINEAS Q. HICKEY. Biography of the inventor of the plumber's hickey (pipe bending tool), electrician's hickey (socket), and the neck-hickey. This is followed by a discussion of historical parallels in the late 19th and early 20th century era of invention.

J-4: THE RISE AND FALL OF HIGHER EDUCATION. A talk suitable for general audiences of academics, humorously treating subjects familiar to us all: done in by degrees, how to advertise a college, be a sport, the inside dopes of administration, a field guide to professorial types, trivial studies, and whatever other ephemera I can throw together. (This is good for honor society banquets.)

J-5: SCIENCE ASKEW Gems of science humor, satire and parody from our just-published book of the same title by Donald E. Simanek and John C. Holden. Previews: The age of the universe is a function of time, The illustrated dictionary of physics, The Ideal Scientific Equipment Company, The Hazards of Solar Power, A Religion for the Rest of Us. There's no guarantee that these items will be in the talk, or if they are, that they will be presented in the same way. If you'd prefer to just read the book and skip the lecture, go to The Institute of Physics Publishing.


R-1: THE CONTINUING CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION. A look at historical conflicts. Inspired by Andrew Dickson White's book: A History of the Conflict Between Science and Theology in Christendom.

R-2: CREATIONIST PSEUDOSCIENCE. Some Christian fundamentalists today promote what they call `Bible Science,' a dogmatic biblical literalism which rejects large portions of biology, astronomy, and even physics. See: Intelligent Design Creationism: Fraudulent Science, Bad Philosophy.

R-3: THE EVILS OF RELIGION. Some say that even if religion may not be true, it is at least a beneficial social institution. This historical survey balances that opinion by showing the harm done by dogmatic religion. This talk is for general audiences, church groups, etc.

R-4: WILL THE REAL JESUS CHRIST PLEASE STAND UP? Some curious characters who were convinced they were Jesus. Maybe they were. How can we ever be sure? [Fewer slides than the other presentations.]


PH-1: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY. The pioneers of photography and their photographs.

PH-2: 3-D STEREO PHOTOGRAPHY. The history and current technology of stereo 3-D, fully illustrated. A show for general audiences.

PH-4: THE GOOD OLD DAYS IN STEREO. [3d Stereo slides] Everyday life in the era of early photography, with appropriate musical background, mostly from automatic musical instruments. See: Antique Stereo View Cards.

PH-5: THE CIVIL WAR IN STEREO. This includes stereo photographs by Matthew Brady and Sullivan.

PH-7: A BUG'S-EYE VIEW OF NATURE. Stereo macrophotography reveals a fascinating world we cannot see by other means.

Note: The stereo photography talks above are illustrated with stereo slides projected on a special screen and viewed with polarizing glasses. Many of the slides are from rare historic originals.

You can see samples of stereo photos at my stereo galleries, presented for cross-eyed viewing.


M-1: SYMMETRY AND PARADOX IN THE ART OF M. C. ESCHER. Escher's art is especially popular with scientists and mathematicians. This show has been completely reworked with excellent reproductions of Escher's works. It is best presented on a large square screen.

M-2: ILLUSIONS A discussion of the nature of visual illusions, with pictures of them. Some audio illusions will be included. Samples: Illusions and 3-D Illusions.

M-3: THE MOON ILLUSION - UNSOLVED MYSTERY The moon illusion makes the horizon moon seem much larger than the overhead moon. People have invented explanations for it since 7 BCE. One of these days they may figure it out.


The level of presentation is suitable for undergraduates, high school students, or general audiences. (The humor talks, however, are best appreciated by students and faculty in the sciences.)

For physics clubs and SPS chapters I request an honorarium sufficient to cover my travel expenses. For physics colloquia or all-campus lecture series events, I request compensation comparable to that given other entertainment of this type. Please inquire.

If you are interested in booking any one of these lectures, contact me at the address shown at the right.

Dr. Donald E. Simanek
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.

Return to Donald Simanek's

Last edit April 2017.