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May 21, 2008

The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments

chemistry glassware

This is a great time to be a kid interested in robots or programming or multimedia, what with Lego Mindstorms and computers and video cameras. But it's the worst of times if you're a kid interested in chemistry.

Over the past generation or so, kids chemistry sets have been emasculated and dumbed to the point of near worthlessness. There are a number of reasons for this... among them manufacturer's fear of lawsuits(*), post-9/11 paranoia about chemicals being used by terrorists, and war-on-drugs paranoia about the ingredients and equipment in chemistry sets being used by meth labs(**).

As a result, there are probably fewer kids in America getting turned on by chemistry, which means there may be fewer kids choosing chemistry as an advocation.

And this couldn't happen at a worst time. We're on the verge of a world-changing revolution in the material sciences, and we could use all of the crack chemists we can get to fuel it.

Robert Thompson to the rescue! Thompson's the author of the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, a new book that tells you how to set up your own chemistry lab, and then use it to perform dozens of fun and educational experiments.

The book lays out just what apparatus and chemicals you'll need, and where you can get them. (It turns out many of the chemicals that have been banned from chemistry sets are still readily available at your local hardware store). I was particularly impressed with the Guide's instructions on how to keep a lab notebook (I could have used that info when I was starting out in science).

Armed with this book, I'm looking forward to many hours with the kids, unlocking the wonders of the chemical world.

(*)So, is doing home chemistry dangerous? Sure, potentially, in the same way that cooking (another activity that every kid master) can be dangerous. Thompson's book does an excellent job teaching lab safety.

(**) Evidently, the state of Texas has made it illegal to buy an Erlenmeyer flask without a permit.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at May 21, 2008 11:16 PM