Creating fog clouds, bubbling potions and laser light shows are some of Eric Krupkin's favorite hobbies.
With the right chemicals, a white lab coat and a simple flick of the wrist, Krupkin, 42, uses these skills to transform from an Ellicott City husband and father of two into Eric Energy, a science educator and performer putting on close to 300 shows throughout the region each year.
"I love getting the children to say 'wow' as the fog consumes the floor and creeps toward them," says Krupkin of one of the many experiments he performs for children as part of his act. "Knowing that I'm sparking their curiosity and making them want to learn more keeps me going."
While it's now his reality, this wasn't Krupkin's lifelong dream. Rather, he took an unexpected path to entrepreneurship and running his own science show business.
He didn't even major in science.
Krupkin graduated from the State University of New York at Albany with a bachelor's degree in communications and ended up moving to Florida to begin his search for a career.
"While I was down there, I interviewed for various communication, broadcasting and journalism jobs and ended up getting a job with a company doing science shows for young children," Krupkin says. "I found out by surprise that I was good at it and it was really enjoyable for me."
While he was there, he ended up doing a bunch of other full-time jobs, working in retail for the educational children's toy store Zany Brainy.
But it just wasn't the same.
"Through all of that, I really missed being a scientist," Krupkin says.
That's when Eric Energy was born.
Krupkin's dad helped him come up with his stage name to give him an identity and a persona that kids could connect with.
"My goal was to pick a name that kids and parents would both remember," he says.
In 1998, he started performing Eric Energy shows part-time, using his contacts at the toy store to find clients. He then got transferred to Maryland through his job at Zany Brainy. Once the educational toy store chain closed, he worked a couple of other jobs while getting Eric Energy off the ground.
"I figured out quickly that this was a fabulous area for child entertainers," Krupkin says. "My goal was to make enough money to pay the bills, but it has well surpassed my idea."
In 2010, he launched Eric Energy into a full-time business.
Krupkin now performs multiple shows each week ranging from backyard birthday parties to theaters that seat hundreds. He's become a regular at Port Discovery in Baltimore and at local elementary schools and preschools such as Centennial Lane Elementary School and St. John's Parish Day School in Ellicott City.
"The kids love that they are allowed to wiggle and move around and that they don't have to be quiet and listen the entire time," says Katherine Baldwin, a teacher for the 3-year-old program at St. John's. "He does a great job of explaining to the children what goes on during each experiment."
In order to explain a vortex to his audience, Krupkin instructed the children to make their mouth into the shape of an "o" and blow into the air, having them feel the change in the power of the air when you force it to come out of a smaller space.
"He understands how children work," Baldwin says. "He knows how to talk to them about complex things and have them understand."
When Kim Lemmonds Henry of Ellicott City won a science show by "Eric Energy" at a silent auction, she wasn't exactly sure what to expect. But once he performed for her daughter's birthday party, she realized that he has a knack for entertaining and educating at the same time.
"He makes it easy for them to understand and he really makes them want to be a part of the show," Henry says. "He always make sure that everyone has a chance to participate, and they are pulled in by his personality and neat tricks."
Henry is the mother of two daughters in 3rd and 6th grades. She is the co-chair of the cultural arts committee at Centennial Lane Elementary School, which hosts Eric Energy shows each year for 4th graders.
But no two Eric Energy shows are the same. He adapts his show to the performance space and the crowd.
"I'm able to perform in any environment," Krupkin says. "All I need is a rectangular table and a place for kids to sit on the floor."
After performing hundreds of shows over the years, he has now expanded his business to include a couple of extra scientists to take on performances in their own unique way.
He started Team EricEnergy, teaching people how to perform his shows through creating their own personas.
His two employees, Reba Goodall (a.k.a. "Rocket Reba") and Jeannie Thomas (a.k.a. "Extreme Jean") have been performing in the area for more than three years.
"Sitting and writing an essay or practicing algebra isn't exactly fun," says Thomas, a former teacher from Abingdon. "So it's great to be able to grab their attention all while teaching them something new."
Goodall had been working children's birthday parties when she answered Krupkin's help ad, but she was mostly performing princess parties, which were not exactly her passion.
"He had done a show for my son's school six years ago, so I was familiar with him," says the Baltimore resident. "I was really excited because science was something I was in school working on … and that I really enjoyed and felt like I could make fun and exciting for kids."
Krupkin trained Goodall and Thomas with his on-stage experiments and performed alongside them before they took their own shows on the road.
Goodall says Krupkin has taught her more than science experiments. It's been a personal journey for her as well.
"As I've gotten more comfortable, my confidence has increased," Goodall says. "He trains you and then he trusts you. He definitely doesn't micromanage."
Krupkin says his own journey transforming into Eric Energy has been more than gratifying.
"I'm living the dream," he says. "There's no better feeling than seeing kids ask questions and wonder. I love that I'm able to help spark curiosity in kids, and that's what it's all about."