following article appeared March 24, 2006 in the
Science lover donates
high-tech memorabilia to schools, museums.
By Peter Franceschina
Rick Newman still acts like a kid.
It's not just the remote-controlled
helicopters and cars. Or the vintage pinball machines and
video games, the collection of space exploration stuff, the
electronic gizmos cluttering his Boca Raton home. Or even the
two futuristic-looking electric cars in the driveway.
"It's an attitude, a way of life. And it usually involves
a big grin, especially when he's buzzing around in one of the
brightly colored electric cars that captivate the curious.
I'm a kid at
heart. What can I say?" Newman, a young-looking 50,
admits with an unapologetic shrug. And then he flashes that
He often asks, "How cool is
He has an outdoor pool table and ping pong
in the side yard, next to a tiki bar. With a huge commercial
generator installed after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in
2004 and an industrial size propane grill, he hosted a cookout
for electricity-less neighbors after Hurricane Wilma in
October (2005). It was a beacon of bright light and merriment in the
otherwise darkened neighborhood.
"I must have had 50 or 60 people here
from the neighborhood," Newman says. "People were
playing pool and ping pong. The bar was open. It was like an
oasis in the middle of the desert."
One recent day Newman was standing next to
his electric cars in the driveway, talking about the purple
one, his new $25,000 toy. A man in a Hummer drives by slowly:
"Hey, they're having babies," he calls out,
chuckling. Newman laughs, too. Everyone in the neighborhood
knows the electric-car guy.
The name of Newman's science-oriented Web
site, HighTechScience.org, is emblazoned on the sides of his
electric cars. The Web site has the details on the cars, as
well as Newman's space collection.
As a kid, Newman always was tinkering with
broken radios and televisions. The moon landing fascinated
"My absolute favorite show was Lost
in Space. I would have done anything to be Will Robinson,
to go out with your family and go on all these cool
adventures," says Newman, a Star Trek fan.
He's been collecting items used in the
American and Russian space programs since he was 13, when he
won first place in the statewide science fair in New York and
was awarded a plaque from NASA. The plaque contained a piece
of microfilm that had been flown to the moon. Young Rick
Newman was off and running on his space collection.
These days, he shares (and loans) pieces of his
collection with museums and donates others to schools.
"Rick Newman is like a kid on
Christmas morning when you start talking about his space
collection," said Jim Rollings, president of the South
Florida Science Museum in West Palm Beach, which features a
number of pieces from Newman's collection.
One of the most popular items on display,
Rollings said, is a Russian space toilet. "He loves to
acquire these exotic pieces of space memorabilia and then find
a place where people can look at them."
His house is a testament to his interests:
The lights come on in rooms when you walk in; motorized
curtains open at dawn and close at dusk; plants are
automatically watered; and there's an elaborate video
surveillance system connected to flat screen monitors in the
garage and office to see what's going on around the house.
Newman has been donating computers,
telescopes, aquariums, weather stations, insect displays and
other items to schools since 1999, so teachers can set up
He's particularly proud that his 20th
science center is being set up in the Wayne Barton Study
Center in Boca Raton. The nonprofit center helps children with
their studies and life skills. He's even donating a 23-foot
powerboat to the center.
"There is a whole opportunity out
there, and we hope to host a science fair here real
soon," said Barton, a former police officer. "We are
going to broaden their vision."
In the summer of 2003, Newman donated
science exhibits, computers and other equipment to a small
school district in northeastern Montana that serves the Fort
Peck Indian Reservation. Elementary, middle and high school
teachers use the science center, math teacher Sheryl Kohl
"Our teachers have used it
extensively. When we first got it, we had community tours of
what was donated," Kohl said. "It has been
wonderful. For our situation, our kids don't have access to
museums or universities or anything like that."
After high school, Newman worked in the
Catskills (of New York), installing video and sound systems in clubs and
working shows with popular entertainers of the day. On his
business Web site, High-TechProductions.com, Newman has posted
photos of his younger self, posing with Frankie Avalon,
Florence Henderson, Milton Berle and Kathy Lee Gifford.
Eventually, Newman started his own video
production company and then set up a video copying business.
Most of his work these days involves copying CDs and DVDs.
Newman moved to Boca Raton in 1992, and two
years later, he married his girlfriend, Jeanne. Meanwhile, his
business has prospered, allowing him to share his love of
science. He estimates he has spent more than $1 million on
equipment for his science centers and on space gear he has
"I don't have any kids. Who am I going
to leave it to?" he says. "I don't need the money. I
like giving back... I love it when I go to one of the science
centers and see the kids playing with everything I donated.
That's what makes it all worthwhile."
For more information
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