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(Smithsonian Magazine)   How the obsolescence of the home chemistry set makes young scientists less safe, and why it should be brought back. Darwin looks on with growing interest   ( smithsonianmag.com) divider line
    More: Obvious, National Museum of American History, Fields of science, buckyballs, Rachel Carson, Toxic Substances Control Act, chemical test, silent spring, polio vaccine  
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4146 clicks; posted to Geek » on 12 Oct 2012 at 3:14 PM (4 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-10-12 05:22:46 PM  
I loved my home chemistry set. I once tried to make glow worms using my mom's good silverware. Not only did I learn about redox reactions, my mom taught me something about conservation of momentum when the ruined spoon hit my ass.

I used it for a 6th grade science fair once testing the ability of different salts to melt ice. My science teacher liked it but pointed out that most of the salts were poisonous. Apparently, the city frowns on using cyanide salts on icy streets. Wimps.
 
2012-10-12 05:24:23 PM  
Yet further proof nanny state liberals hate science.
 
2012-10-12 05:26:31 PM  
and yet there are still tonnes of these...
crimecollar.com

God bless America.
 
2012-10-12 05:28:43 PM  
Want kids to play with chemistry sets? Then forbid them to play with chemistry sets as too dangerous.
 
2012-10-12 05:29:35 PM  
I remember my brothers and I got a home chemistry set around 1975. We had fun with it.

One day (or was it two hours after opening the box?), we decided to put a bunch of chemicals in a test tube and heat it. Eventually, a beautiful flame shot out. The test tube was blackened nicely and couldn't be cleaned, no matter how hard we tried.

I still remember the look on my brother's face; first the shock, then the smile and laughter when he realized the house wasn't going to burn down after all. Good times.
 
2012-10-12 05:30:30 PM  

kroonermanblack: Lego, and the build an electric thing that was all hex plastic bubbles and drive trains and wheels.


Capsela? (summon the all powerful wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsela)

Stupid spoiled classmate had that, plus his parents kept him stocked in AA batteries so it would actually run. I was most jealous.

I Had:

- Erector set (small one, no motor)
- a ridiculous amount of Legos, including a couple cool "Expert Builder" sets (and one motor, but never had batteries)
- chemistry set (Chemcraft, had some decent nasty stuff in it, including alcohl lamp)
- Radio Shack 150 in 1 (Dad got for $5 because it didn't work, took it home and successfully built the circuit the salesperson couldn't build, heh heh)
- lots or rockets/rocket engines
- lots of electronic bits and parts (including etching to make my own PC boards).

So naturally I ended up a CPA/lawyer. Wait, what?

/I miss science
 
2012-10-12 05:32:01 PM  
Cue Dr Magnus Pyke:

"Science!!!"
 
2012-10-12 05:42:38 PM  

rufus-t-firefly: ltdanman44: [www.otrcat.com image 550x547]


Let's bring this one back

Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab

The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book (Dagwood Splits the Atom) and a government manual "Prospecting for Uranium."

Sure, they're not sold anymore...but you can make your own.


I have a Gilbert #12026 Chemistry Experiment Lab in front of me right now; it's never been used. Picked it up from some guy whose garage I was helping clean out. I thought a friend of mine would like the case, so when he offered it to me, I said, "Sure." I couldn't believe it when I got it home and opened it up to find everything sitting there like the day it was bought.
 
2012-10-12 05:43:23 PM  
The only thing that my parents ever said that actually pissed me off, was when I asked for a workshop space somewhere in the house, they said no. they were afraid I'd wreck what they had worked so hard to make. Naturally, I made portable onces so I could deploy anywhere. Then I discovered why they made their decision: my portable workshops gave me essential functionality on any project I was working on, and now, I can build, maintenize and repair almost anything with little more than my toolbag for larger projects and the stuff in my pockets for everything else. I was always finding ways to make things work, as I was raised to always, because I had to work to buy all of my own "toys". Because of this, I gained skills and knowledge in computing, networking, automotive, HVAC, controls, and even a little chemistry. I also played the hell out of some videogames, but they could never capture my time like programming or circuit building or car repair or anything else

That said, I know many of my friends, even today, who found that they could just videogame all day and not get yelled at, even though they are my academic superiors, always turn to me when they need something fixed or explained or built. Parents: don't leave your children helpless. For everything your kid breaks in the process they learn how to fix!
 
2012-10-12 05:48:30 PM  
FTA - emphasis on safety may actually be making young scientists less safe. "I get students who I can't get to wear eye protection in the lab or closed-toe shoes,"

THIS. I was in a chemistry program not long ago (quit because I found out I don't want to do laboratory work for the rest of my life), but most of the other students were complete idiots. One guy lifted up the hood shield while my flask was spewing SO3 gas. (hint - add H2O and that's H2SO4). I set the flask down, covered my mouth and backed away quickly. He coughed up blood.

/if he had read what was going to happen in the experiment, he would have seen the warning about the gas and not to breathe it
//I would have shut the hood back down, but it would have most likely caused his flask and all the chemicals to spill
 
2012-10-12 06:01:00 PM  

anfrind: xynix: FishyFred: xynix: Heath Kits

If you are as well off as you always say you are, I smell a business opportunity.

I wish.. that requires engaged parents. Parents that don't park their kid somewhere in order to get them out of their hair for awhile. I don't see enough of that going on now.. I see a lot of people parking their kinds in front of a computer.

Of course that's not universal .. but I don't see a huge market demand for learning toys that require parental involvement.

Are you familiar with the maker movement? If you could manufacture the kits at a reasonable price and advertise them in the right places (e.g. Make Magazine), you might be able to establish a loyal customer base and make a decent profit on them.


I'm a biz dev and sales guy with an engineering background. The keyword there is background and I've left the engineering side and have no desire to go back. With that said I would be more than willing to get involved in something like that but it would require a trusted partner that understands and appreciates the techie approach of creation. Maybe it's something to consider and my son could be involved in such a thing. I wouldn't need to make a huge profit just cover costs and provide a good USA built product to other engineering minded fathers.

Certainly something to think about.
 
2012-10-12 06:01:09 PM  
I keep asking the wife to get the boy more Engino kits, cough cough ya all for the boy. Lego meet physics. But for the life of me I have a hard time comunicatng some of the ideas to a 4 year old.

There are some nice ideas though in this thread. Might be a fun xmas for me him
 
2012-10-12 06:22:11 PM  
Silly Subby,

I very much doubt Darwin is looking on, as he is quite dead.

/ Got my daughter a crystal-growing kit last year. Turned out to be quite messy, and the instructions were written in Engrish
 
2012-10-12 06:22:37 PM  

xynix: I'm a biz dev and sales guy with an engineering background. The keyword there is background and I've left the engineering side and have no desire to go back. With that said I would be more than willing to get involved in something like that but it would require a trusted partner that understands and appreciates the techie approach of creation. Maybe it's something to consider and my son could be involved in such a thing. I wouldn't need to make a huge profit just cover costs and provide a good USA built product to other engineering minded fathers.

Certainly something to think about.


Perhaps as advertising / getting started tool, one could program a little electronics simulator that would "create" these objects and show how to do projects, so the kids could get started without close supervision, then when they had an inkling what they were doing, they could order the kits and build the items for real...

Well, I would be more likely to buy something like that for my 12 yr old if he brought me the diagrams and stuff and said, please can you buy this stuff for me, I want to make this!! And considering his addiction to minecraft, I think it might even happen. He's definitely learning a bit about circuits in that game.
 
2012-10-12 06:25:58 PM  

markie_farkie: CSB:

When I was 10, I got a chemistry set with some pretty powerful stuff in it (early 70s, you could sell shiat like that and not get sued into the Stone Age) and the first thing I did was mix two of the items it said to NEVER mix.

It puffed a huge cloud of smoke, and I freaked out and dropped the little beaker out of the set, spilling whatever it was that the reaction created into the styrofoam tray that all the vials, test tubes, etc were packed in, and completely reduced the entire "101 Experiment Master Chemistry Set" to a puddle of pink ooze, interspersed with what was left of my birthday present.

SCIENCE!!


If it burned off the "10" it would become the 1 Experiment Master Chemistry Set.
 
2012-10-12 06:37:51 PM  
When I was a kid (late 80s early 90s) I had a decent chemistry set, irc. It had all these little vials of different basic chemicals and elements (a few acids and bases and some straight up powdered metals like sodium). It also had a cool molecule modeling kit with the little balls and springs for bonds and a manual explaining it all. I killed many ants with chemical warfare the year I got it.

I also remember having a bunch of legos.

I tried to get my parents to let me build a particle accelerator in the basement (a simple one) but they didn't go for it, something about not wanting me to tap into the fuse box. Whatever...I'm a nuke engineer now so I use and build the "no shiat" versions of acclerators and other radiation equipment anyways.

/csb
 
2012-10-12 06:48:45 PM  
My local school system had a farking seed irradiator. Can't remember if it was Cs137 or Co60, probably the former. Never got to use it, though, by the 1970's they hid it from the kids.

One guy in our neighborhood has one of the old electrostatic/ultraviolet patent-medicine "treatment" kits.

This thread gives me lots of ideas to share and build on with little Un. Got to be careful these days, stuff I did growing up would probably be "OMG - terrorism!" today.

/NaClO3 + C12H22O11 + a little heat = a lot of heat + smoke + some other stuff and a "WHY is the attic fan on in the middle of JANUARY ? ! !"
 
2012-10-12 06:50:20 PM  

Unobtanium: My local school system had a farking seed irradiator. Can't remember if it was Cs137 or Co60, probably the former. Never got to use it, though, by the 1970's they hid it from the kids.

One guy in our neighborhood has one of the old electrostatic/ultraviolet patent-medicine "treatment" kits.

This thread gives me lots of ideas to share and build on with little Un. Got to be careful these days, stuff I did growing up would probably be "OMG - terrorism!" today.

/NaClO3 + C12H22O11 + a little heat = a lot of heat + smoke + some other stuff and a "WHY is the attic fan on in the middle of JANUARY ? ! !"


I looked at the homemade particle accelerator and went "Neat, but too no-fly-listy"
 
2012-10-12 06:59:27 PM  
Lots of ideas for Christmas for my cousins (1st grade through middle school). I got all of them something they could learn from for Christmas last year (chess set, science kits, a snap circuit kit, books), and if I have some money, I'll do the same this year. The younger ones are definitely into science (and causing chaos... duh). The youngest was thrilled with his microscope last year. My mom and I picked out matching volcano sets for the two youngest (they're a year apart) after I tried to show them baking soda and vinegar when I babysat them a few weeks earlier (even better when my uncle spotted his nephew opening one and said he was happy it wasn't going home with him, as his son started opening his). The seven year old is at that point where he'll argue things with me, too. Like he swore that it was salt and vinegar that reacted. And a couple months ago he amusingly argued with me about the weather and what thunder is (I'm a grad student in atmospheric sciences, something which does not impress him in the least, nor hold up as proof that I might know better).

The arduino kits sound like an interesting idea for my brother, who has a bit of programming experience and who likes to tinker (he's 16), though I don't want to get him something where he finds that he needs more stuff for what he *really* wants to do (and technically I already got him a Christmas and birthday present, since I bought his class ring). He's the only one in the family who tries to out-nerd me :D
 
2012-10-12 07:00:04 PM  

Unobtanium: My local school system had a farking seed irradiator. Can't remember if it was Cs137 or Co60, probably the former. Never got to use it, though, by the 1970's they hid it from the kids.

One guy in our neighborhood has one of the old electrostatic/ultraviolet patent-medicine "treatment" kits.

This thread gives me lots of ideas to share and build on with little Un. Got to be careful these days, stuff I did growing up would probably be "OMG - terrorism!" today.

/NaClO3 + C12H22O11 + a little heat = a lot of heat + smoke + some other stuff and a "WHY is the attic fan on in the middle of JANUARY ? ! !"


KClO3 myself. Lots more reactive. And S and C instead of the sucrose. Really phenomenal amount of smoke for such a small container.
 
2012-10-12 07:09:08 PM  
Oh, and I don't remember having a lot of cool science kits growing up in the 90s, though I did have a microscope at one point, but had no idea what the hell to do with it. Also, I decided I wanted to be a meteorologist at age 7, so I got a lot of weather books (and the occasional other science-ey book). And, the fallback gift for everyone has almost always been a thermometer; I probably received somewhere between 10-15 of those over the last 16 years. I think I still have 6 of them...

/Probably had something to do with the fact that I rarely wore the clothes my relatives picked out
//And most of the makeup went unused, too, except maybe if I handed it off to my sister
 
2012-10-12 07:10:09 PM  

Quantum Apostrophe: KClO3 myself. Lots more reactive. And S and C instead of the sucrose. Really phenomenal amount of smoke for such a small container.


Yes, and the stuff i was using was awfully hygroscopic. But easier to get, as the oxidizer for a torch sold by a certain national retail chain now very badly in decline. And the sugar was in the kitchen. Along with the mortar and pestle. Place I worked in high school had a small amount of chemistry lab stuff laying around for sale. "Hey, boss, how much for this dusty box of junk?" "5 bucks should do it."
 
2012-10-12 07:14:18 PM  
how can we do that? it's nearly criminal to own glassware or a balance. legalize meth already. solve obesity, the economy, depressed housewives...
 
2012-10-12 07:17:20 PM  
xynix
The only thing available that comes close is a really dumbed down snap-together electric set which teaches absolutely nothing about the parts or how to replace anything. The last chemistry set I got my son was a plastic pile of Chinese trash. It's really hard to find anything that will educate children on real-world stuff that requires hands-on work.

I bought a Arduino for my son Saturday and subscribed to two robotics magazines aimed at experimenters. Micro Center had a whole aisle of builder parts next to the video games. Then, of course, there's Make magazine.
 
2012-10-12 07:34:16 PM  

Priapetic: Capsela?


Capsela was fun during bath time. You had the floaty legs and propellers to make floating armadas with. The set my folks got me for Christmas was just shy of $100, a fairly large sum for toys in the early '80s.

Looking back, I think they were a heck of a lot more interactive than the larger block Lego sets at the time.
 
2012-10-12 07:40:17 PM  

ltdanman44: [www.otrcat.com image 550x547]


Let's bring this one back


Yeah! I'd like to point out that there used to be a dye pigment called "Uranium Yellow." Apparently the color positively glowed.
 
2012-10-12 07:42:35 PM  

Diogenes: There are still places to get cool and real science stuff for your kids. Hell, I still order from this place, and Mom still peruses the catalog when Christmas shopping for me.

Scientifics


I love that site. Have for quite a while now. :)
 
2012-10-12 07:49:01 PM  

xynix: It's really hard to find anything that will educate children on real-world stuff that requires hands-on work.


FALSE.

It's hard to find any such commercial product. You as a father can easily drive him to radio shack or the hardware store, give him the run down on the pieces parts, and teach him how to build something cool like a potato gun or a laser tag set.
 
2012-10-12 07:50:40 PM  

meat0918: Baking soda and vinegar only go so far.

I've got an old "Boy's Guide to Science" from the 60's that has some interesting chemistry experiments for kids, but I don't know where to get some of the things to do them.


Libyans.

www.dailyautocrat.com

Be sure to have a good escape plan.
 
2012-10-12 07:53:48 PM  
I say bring back real chemistry sets. What's the worst that could happen?

cdn.videogum.com
 
2012-10-12 07:58:03 PM  
Pfft. You just have to know where to shop.

Coolest toy store in Seattle.
 
2012-10-12 08:03:02 PM  
fc01.deviantart.net
 
2012-10-12 08:15:39 PM  

Unobtanium: Quantum Apostrophe: KClO3 myself. Lots more reactive. And S and C instead of the sucrose. Really phenomenal amount of smoke for such a small container.

Yes, and the stuff i was using was awfully hygroscopic. But easier to get, as the oxidizer for a torch sold by a certain national retail chain now very badly in decline. And the sugar was in the kitchen. Along with the mortar and pestle. Place I worked in high school had a small amount of chemistry lab stuff laying around for sale. "Hey, boss, how much for this dusty box of junk?" "5 bucks should do it."


Oh yes, I remember quite clearly the crackling sound of the powder reacting with moisture on my skin. Oh and Micronox?
 
2012-10-12 08:29:48 PM  
I realize I am very late to the thread, but for those fondly remembering Heathkit kits, Ramsey Electronics has stuff you can solder together, some silly LED blinking toys, all the way up to FM transmitters and stuff. If nothing else, it can get you some quality time with your kid, maybe even help them to choose to be a better student and get a decent career. Unlike myself.

Disclaimer: I do not work said company, though I have purchased a few of their products and enjoyed them.

http://www.ramseyelectronics.com/
 
2012-10-12 08:37:14 PM  
I'll never forget the first science kit my dad got for me when I was but a young lad.
A cylindrical container, into which a magical oil made from vegetables was poured.
The kit contained a sharp instrument, knife-like in appearance, and a chemical labeled "sodium chloride".
Under supervision I would take a common potato, slice it thinly, and place it into the container.
My dad would then turn the science dial to maximum, and the oil would heat up to a dangerous, roiling boil, transforming the tubers into a delicious concoction, made even tastier with the addition of the aforementioned chemical.
I couldn't have gotten where I am today without that early childhood experience.
 
2012-10-12 08:48:07 PM  
Being a kid in the Fifties and early Sixties was f**king awesome.
I had boomerangs, throwing knives, BB guns, and pocket knives - and I lived in the city.
I had REAL chemistry sets.
I had a REAL microscope and germ culture set.
I did not have one of those cool atomic experiment sets.
But at the age of ten, I owned thirteen Playboy magazines.
I was an honored man. In 1960, that made you the shiat, amongst other 10 year olds.
 
2012-10-12 08:50:24 PM  

Dear Jerk: xynix
The only thing available that comes close is a really dumbed down snap-together electric set which teaches absolutely nothing about the parts or how to replace anything. The last chemistry set I got my son was a plastic pile of Chinese trash. It's really hard to find anything that will educate children on real-world stuff that requires hands-on work.

I bought a Arduino for my son Saturday and subscribed to two robotics magazines aimed at experimenters. Micro Center had a whole aisle of builder parts next to the video games. Then, of course, there's Make magazine.


Make has a cool website where you can order all kinds of kits. I'm actually getting into it now as an adult so I can teach my kid when she's older.

I always wanted to do these things but had one of the first over protective parents. I guess it's rather tame as far as midlife crisis go.
 
2012-10-12 08:57:35 PM  

Quantum Apostrophe:

Oh yes, I remember quite clearly the crackling sound of the powder reacting with moisture on my skin. Oh and Micronox?


SolidOx (Happy that Google settled one of the Books lawsuits)

Micronox was Nitrous Oxide + Butane
 
2012-10-12 09:14:12 PM  

jso2897: I had boomerangs, throwing knives, BB guns, and pocket knives - and I lived in the city.


Yeah, but you have to admit, the city streets were a lot more dangerous when every kid had a boomerang.
 
2012-10-12 09:17:24 PM  
FTA: " The pair had scrounged the equipment to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water."

My 8th grade science teacher was a retired MIT Prof.
I still remember this one, easy as water, 2 test tubes and some DC voltage (train transformer).

Potassium Permanganate + glycerine is fun too

/had the big Radio Shack set
// paper route $ went to RS too
 
2012-10-12 09:26:20 PM  

big pig peaches: Dear Jerk: xynix
The only thing available that comes close is a really dumbed down snap-together electric set which teaches absolutely nothing about the parts or how to replace anything. The last chemistry set I got my son was a plastic pile of Chinese trash. It's really hard to find anything that will educate children on real-world stuff that requires hands-on work.

I bought a Arduino for my son Saturday and subscribed to two robotics magazines aimed at experimenters. Micro Center had a whole aisle of builder parts next to the video games. Then, of course, there's Make magazine.

Make has a cool website where you can order all kinds of kits. I'm actually getting into it now as an adult so I can teach my kid when she's older.

I always wanted to do these things but had one of the first over protective parents. I guess it's rather tame as far as midlife crisis go.


MAKE is why I recently got hooked on electronics again at the ripe old age of 40. I kept seeing really cool projects and I just decided to do it. Now I'm building analog synthesizer circuits and sequencers and stuff. When my wife complains about the noise I just tell her to be happy it wasn't a motorcycle or a 'secretary' or whatever. I like my tame midlife crisis.
 
2012-10-12 09:28:40 PM  

Unobtanium: Quantum Apostrophe:

Oh yes, I remember quite clearly the crackling sound of the powder reacting with moisture on my skin. Oh and Micronox?

SolidOx (Happy that Google settled one of the Books lawsuits)

Micronox was Nitrous Oxide + Butane


Oh wow, I remember that floating head guy...
 
2012-10-12 09:31:15 PM  
When I was 8, back in 1969, my mother left a $20 bill on the counter. I grabbed it never even thinking I was stealing. It just never registered that my mom could leave out that much money. To me it was just like finding it on the street.
I got my friend, hopped on our bikes, and made a beeline for the toy store. I got my friend a squirt gun, and got myself a geology science kit.
It had an alcohol burner for wire loop flame tests, scales for measuring specific gravity, lots of different ores including galena, fools gold, and uranium ore that would set off a geiger counter. a few different minerals of various Mohs scale hardness, and a hunk of asbestos.
I was a little disappointed that thin strands would melt and burn. I wanted it to be some magical impervious to fire stuff.
Of course, my mom was pissed, because $20 was a significant amount of cash at the time. My dad was in 'Nam at the time, and she made me explain what I did during his monthly call. I just went on about how cool the set was, and he thought it was hilarious.
 
2012-10-12 10:03:02 PM  

Diogenes: There are still places to get cool and real science stuff for your kids. Hell, I still order from this place, and Mom still peruses the catalog when Christmas shopping for me.

Scientifics



Thanks for the link...now I know what my 10 year old is getting for Christmas, and his next birthday too!
 
2012-10-12 10:22:17 PM  
Step 1: Put some of everything in test tube.
Step 2: Throw away test tube full of black goo.
 
2012-10-12 10:28:10 PM  

xynix: There are a couple things that I would love to teach my son but are no longer available. Of course the chemistry set but also Heath Kits that my dad used to buy for me when I was a kid. As a result of building Heath Kits I can fix just about anything electric in my house. An example would be the Samsung flatscreen I have. It had two blown capacitors causing it to not power on and I replaced them for $4 in parts. The TV shop wanted $150 to fix it.. Another would be the controller on my stove which had a blown cap and I replaced it with one from an old DVD player for free. The replacement part from Whirlpool was $185.

The only thing available that comes close is a really dumbed down snap-together electric set which teaches absolutely nothing about the parts or how to replace anything. The last chemistry set I got my son was a plastic pile of Chinese trash. It's really hard to find anything that will educate children on real-world stuff that requires hands-on work. None of the learning toys I played with as a child are available in any level of quality and not even Radio Shack has anything useful anymore. Plenty of iPhone 5s though...


You had to replace the 1000uf and 2500uf big electrolytics on the power supply board? They were all bloated out because they were sized undervoltage?

Buy the TV at Walmart or Brandsmart USA?
 
2012-10-12 10:41:48 PM  
Their instructions recommended testing for the presence of hydrogen with a glowing ember-luckily, they were working in a makeshift basement lab where there was nothing flammable.

You're right, it's just over-reaction by helicopter parents...

Seriously, THIS is the anecdote you choose to show how safe chemistry sets can be? Who's the retard who wrote this stupid article? I expected better from The Smithsonian.
 
2012-10-12 10:46:11 PM  
Related? You can order owl pellets and take them apart to see what the owls ate. Pretty freaking cool. No, not chemistry, but certainly something to encourage scientific curiosity. We ordered some over the summer. Kids loved them.
 
2012-10-12 11:14:59 PM  
The only experiment I remember was "mix everything together then heat it to a boil". If I remember correctly the liquid caught on fire and stank so I deemed it a total success.
 
2012-10-12 11:20:49 PM  
Hey, does anybody know what this LOGWOOD is for??

Dad brought a Chemcraft set home one time that someone had given him and all the neat ingredients were empty, there was just dumb stuff left. Also the manual was missing so I made a variety of stink bombs from what was left but never used "logwood". Also, the alcohol burner didn't burn right with isopropyl alcohol and we never had any of the right kind. I got a little caught up later we had a store in San Jose called the Science Shop where I was able to get Iodine crystals and I mixed them (carefully!) up in ammonia - best purple cloud explosive ever!
 
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