Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blast From the Past: Chemistry Sets in 2007

chemistry set

Chemistry sets of today are far different than those we grew up with. The main reason is safety. With the internet came a broad dissemination of potentially dangerous knowledge -- that plus a number of notorious bombings led to an atmosphere of self-censorship on the part of kit manufacturers. For instance, potassium nitrate, key element of gunpowder, is noticeably missing from even an otherwise impressive chemistry set. Can you imagine the liability risk of manufacturers?

These days there is a tendency to "dumb-down" chemistry. One online source boasts a "experiment" the purpose of which is to create fake vomit. Another site features "food chemistry" as an alternative to the test tube scene. Is this chemistry for the Xbox generation?

Controversy over potentially hazardous chemistry experiments is nothing new. This amazing book only lasted two editions because it was considered too dangerous for children. Now, only 126 copies exist in libraries. Fortunately, a beautiful PDF version is available online. Modern texts still shy away from child-damaging pyrotechnic experiments but contain hundreds of very important projects. Geekkids can learn about gases and solids, acids and bases, atomic structure, osmosis, chemical bonding, solvents, crystallization... everything.

Needless to say, while the Web brought more restrictions on chemistry sets, that missing knowledge is available for those who look hard enough. For instance, remember the missing potassium nitrate? It can be bought online by the kilogram. More practically, lesson plans and experiments by the thousands are there for the asking. Simply googling dry ice experiments gives you more activities than you could ever do.

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