MAKE Newsletter for November 25, 2008
Each week we all hear stories about the "good ole days" of science, engineering, and chemistry. Decades ago kids had chemistry sets and made rockets; we invested in science everywhere. We were heading to the moon.
We can't live in the past though; we can only build on it. The best days of science are not behind us, folks -- they're ahead of us! It's up to all of us to do something about it. I don't know about you, but I want to live through a "golden age" of science, and it can start now. As a society, we are what we celebrate. If we celebrate reality TV show "stars" and Britney Spears, that's what we'll get. If we celebrate all the cool things scientists, engineers, and chemists do, we'll get our next generation of rock stars -- and by that I mean geologists and astronomers.
Each year at MAKE we put together a few gift guides: open source hardware, electronics, science, woodworking, and this year we've added chemistry. Before we dive in to *the* Chemistry Gift Guide, here are some excerpts as well as an interesting look back at one Christmas morning by Robert Bruce Thompson, author of The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments:
It was a Lionel/Porter/Chemcraft chemistry set, and the exact model I'd asked for. The biggest one, with dozens of chemicals and hundreds of experiments. Glassware, an alcohol lamp, a balance, even a centrifuge. Everything I needed to do real chemistry. I instantly forgot about the rest of my presents, even the BB gun. I started reading the manual, jumping from one experiment to another. I carefully examined each of the chemical bottles. The names of the chemicals were magical. Copper sulfate, sodium carbonate, sulfur, cobalt chloride, logwood, potassium ferricyanide, ferrous ammonium sulfate, and dozens more.
I used the balance to weigh something for the first time. I put an object in one of the balance pans and carefully added weights to the other pan until the needle was centered. As I was about to jump on to something else, my dad brought me to a screeching halt. "Write it down," he said. "A scientist records what he observes. If you don't work methodically and write down what you observe, you're not a scientist. You're just playing around." I've been recording my observations ever since.
I soon lost interest in the other gifts, but getting that chemistry set was a life-changing experience. My mother told me years later that she and my dad had hoped that the chemistry set would hold my interest for at least a few weeks. As it turned out, it held my interest a bit longer. With my dad's help, I built a chemistry workbench in the basement, and later a photographic darkroom. I scrounged equipment and chemicals from every source I could think of, and saved up for things that required cash. I spent every spare moment in that lab, and went on to major in chemistry in college and graduate school. Even now, more than 40 years later, I have a chemistry lab in the basement. It's a much better lab than the one I had back in the 1960s, but the work habits I learned then stand me in good stead now.
What I experienced that Christmas morning was repeated in millions of other homes through the years as boys (and, alas, only a few girls) opened their first chemistry sets. From the 1930s through the 1960s, chemistry sets were among the most popular Christmas gifts, selling in the millions. It's said that in the 1940s and 1950s there was a chemistry set in nearly every household where there was a child. Even as late as the 1970s, chemistry sets remained popular and were on display in every toy store and department store. And then something bad happened. By the 1980s, chemistry sets had become a dying breed. Few stores carried them, and most of those sets that remained available were pale shadows of what chemistry sets had been back in the glory days.
On with the biggest, best, and only Chemistry Gift Guide!
From the MAKE Blog
Chemistry Experiment Kit 3000 Give the gift that will make our next generation of chemists possible! CHEM C3000 is the ultimate chemistry kit. Start with fun experiments to learn basic chemistry principles, then build a strong foundation with exposure to a broad range of chemical phenomena and hands-on lab experience. Pair this with our Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry. Price: $199.95 (On sale, you save $40)
Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs who can no longer get real chemistry sets, this one-of-a-kind guide explains how to set up and use a home chemistry lab, with step-by-step instructions for conducting experiments in basic chemistry. Learn how to smelt copper, purify alcohol, synthesize rayon, test for drugs and poisons, and much more. The book includes lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab, along with 17 hands-on chapters that include multiple laboratory sessions. Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments is a fantastic teacher for chemical literacy. It will show you or your kids how to work with chemicals, and why they are fun. Some of the experiments are visually entertaining; others are scientifically important. There are simply no other decent books for the beginner chemical experimenter. The ones you find in libraries are simply useless trash. The stuff on the internet is haphazard and inconsistent. Follow the instructions here in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments and you'll be on your way. Price: $25.99
Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments (Hardcover) The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments was a children's chemistry book written in the 1960s by Robert Brent, illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and published by Western Publishing in their Golden Books series. Many of the experiments contained in the book are now considered highly dangerous for unsupervised children, and would not appear in a modern children's chemistry book. OCLC lists only 126 copies of this book in libraries worldwide. It was said that the experiments and information contained herein were too dangerous for the general public. The book was a source of inspiration to David Hahn, nicknamed "the Radioactive Boy Scout" by the media, who tried to collect a sample of every chemical element and also built a model nuclear reactor, which led to the involvement of the authorities. Price: $495.00 (collectible) PDF Price: FREE! You can find a PDF of it here and print it out.