Robert DeHaan came to Atlanta in 1973 to study the rhythmic beating of the heart. But by the mid-‘90s, the cell biologist’s focus was on the mind. DeHaan wanted to help children absorb the basic concepts of science.
After seeing how science was taught at his grandson’s school, DeHaan, wanted to change the way the subject was presented to children. What was missing, he said, was a way for kids to get hands-on experience in science.
“If you want kids to become good basketball players, you don’t give them books about basketball history,” he said in a 2001 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You get them on the court to play.”
In 1995, DeHaan started Elementary Science Education Partners, which put undergraduate science majors with elementary school teachers in the Atlanta Public School System.
“He went to five or so schools in the Atlanta area, did workshops with teachers in those schools and then sent the undergraduate students into the classroom with them,” said his wife Marianne Scharbo-DeHaan. “He believed children were born scientists and asking questions. Just reading about it wasn’t what they needed to do. They needed to make things and experiment with things.”
DeHaan ran the program until 2000, the year he retired from Emory University. The number of young students he touched during that time is well in the hundreds, his wife said.
Robert DeHaan, known as Bob by many, of Atlanta, died Tuesday of complications from pneumonia. He was 82.
A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m., Sunday at Emory’s Cannon Chapel. H.M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill Chapel is in charge of arrangements.
DeHaan came to Atlanta to take a teaching and research position at Emory, his wife said. His work was heavily focused on how current flowed between heart cells. DeHaan and the group of researchers he worked with found that the heart’s millions of cells all beat together. And even when moved around in the heart, the cells quickly synchronize into a common rhythm.
While at Emory, the UCLA- educated scientist taught one of the classes every medical students had to take: embryology. Scharbo-DeHaan said her husband taught that class to approximately 100 students every fall for more than 15 years.
“That is how a great many people know him and remember him,” she said.
But beyond his contributions to science in primary, secondary and post-secondary education, DeHaan was a well-respected educator in his family, especially among his grandchildren.
“He managed to get all of our children interested in reading,” said his step daughter, Dana Lieberman. “And when my children asked me or my husband a question, and we didn’t have a ready answer, they would say, ‘That’s OK, let’s ask Papi Bob,’ ” she added with a laugh, using the moniker the grandchildren called DeHaan.
Lieberman said DeHaan also had an impact on her own educational interests. She’d mentioned to him on more than one occasion about wanting to get back into art. One day when they met for lunch, he produced a catalog of classes.
“He was holding me accountable for what I said I wanted to do,” she said, adding that his ability to listen not only made him a good grandfather and stepfather, but also a good teacher.
“You could see, no matter the subject; and it didn’t have to be science, because he was also interested in classical music and art, he would listen,” she said. “He was just always available to listen.”
In addition to his second wife of 23 years, grandson and stepdaughter, DeHaan is survived by his son Benjamin DeHaan of Lucca, Italy; daughter Pippit Carlington of Atlanta, both from his first wife, Virginia S. DeHaan, who died in 1986; stepsons, Mark Scharbo of Chicago, Ill., and Grant Scharbo of Los Angeles; and nine grandchildren.