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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 42
    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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4123 clicks; posted to Geek » on 12 Oct 2012 at 3:14 PM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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Archived thread
2012-10-12 01:22:16 PM  
5 votes:
Trying to popularize chemistry sets again can't hurt, but if you really want to make science cool again, step up and pay teachers what they are worth and stop letting gym teachers double as science teachers so they can "teach the controversy."
2012-10-12 04:34:27 PM  
3 votes:
Just bought my son a 'Getting started with Arduino' kit at the Maker Faire a few weeks ago.
Since then we visited the Hoboken hackerspace, learned how to solder, and are going to make a arduino project that makes a programmable video game that attaches to a TV.

That is the new heathkit.
2012-10-12 05:43:23 PM  
2 votes:
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 04:37:06 PM  
2 votes:

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.
2012-10-12 04:25:21 PM  
2 votes:
My mother worked for a chemical company that sold natron (basically soda ash and some other stuff) and brought home about 30 lbs one year. I spent a couple of months practicing Egyptian mummification on fruits and vegetable and eventually some mice from the traps in the basement. Now I'm a historian.

All we're doing is teaching kids to never try anything that might possibly injure them and when they grow up they don't have any interests outside of tv and video games or know how to do anything practical.

/Mummification is totally a practical skill
2012-10-12 04:15:28 PM  
2 votes:

FishyFred: step up and pay teachers what they are worth


For some teachers, this would mean much more money.
For most teachers, this would mean much less money.
2012-10-12 03:27:37 PM  
2 votes:

MilesTeg: [farm4.static.flickr.com image 500x375] 

Still have somewhere...


I have the 75 in One (looks like that one) and the 300 in One (looks way different, had an actual breadboard) 

Found a pic: cdn2.sulitstatic.com
2012-10-12 03:22:23 PM  
2 votes:

MilesTeg: [farm4.static.flickr.com image 500x375] 

Still have somewhere...


I LOVED mine. Dad was an electrical engineer and got me started with a solid foundation. Best thing Radio Shack ever made.
2012-10-12 03:20:17 PM  
2 votes:
farm4.static.flickr.com 

Still have somewhere...
2012-10-12 02:52:14 PM  
2 votes:
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
2012-10-12 01:18:56 PM  
2 votes:
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...
2012-10-13 09:18:50 AM  
1 votes:

Absurdity: Just got my daughter a snap circuit set for her fifth birthday. It is a little advanced for her, but she can already recognize the difference between series and parallel circuits. I definitely recommend it.

snapcircuits.net/

We have also done a volcano and other small experiments at home. We are planning on getting some litmus paper so she can test things around the house.

There are lots of things you can do and we are always looking for new ideas.

/Not science related, but we also picked up a world map puzzle for her just yesterday.


If you know anyone who teaches at a large school, that's a great opportunity. When college profs learn that one of their colleagues knows a kid who wants to learn, they're all over that. That's how I got my litmus paper when I was a kid.

As for maps, I have two recommendations:
1) An actual globe (inexpensive inflatable is fine), with NO markings on it. I think it's a critical error of early education to not SHOW kids what our world looks like as a *planet*.
2) Historial atlas. Geograhipic and historical education is often narrowly focused, in time and space. A historical atlas shows much more clearly how the human world has changed over the last several thousand years. I think it's a very valuable thing to grasp, that nations and borders are not set in stone.
2012-10-12 09:26:20 PM  
1 votes:

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 08:57:35 PM  
1 votes:

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 08:50:24 PM  
1 votes:

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 08:29:48 PM  
1 votes:
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 06:01:09 PM  
1 votes:
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 05:48:30 PM  
1 votes:
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 05:28:43 PM  
1 votes:
Want kids to play with chemistry sets? Then forbid them to play with chemistry sets as too dangerous.
2012-10-12 05:26:31 PM  
1 votes:
and yet there are still tonnes of these...
crimecollar.com

God bless America.
2012-10-12 05:22:46 PM  
1 votes:
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 05:20:26 PM  
1 votes:

redsquid: Arduino is an awesome way to get them hooked quickly. With the short attention spans of kids today it's nice to have quick results without too much of a learning curve. It's a great time to be a geek!


Kits! So many *duino kits out there

content.solarbotics.com
content.solarbotics.com 

Even Arduino compatible Stamp style controllers!
content.solarbotics.com

/I have a netduino I'm using to make a little something, eventually
2012-10-12 05:19:31 PM  
1 votes:

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.


My grandpa loved Heath Kits. His stereo was HK. His oscilloscope was HK. His DC to AC inverter was HK. The livingroom TV was HK. Probably half a dozen other things I don't remember.
2012-10-12 05:16:05 PM  
1 votes:

exparrot: Just bought my son a 'Getting started with Arduino' kit at the Maker Faire a few weeks ago.
Since then we visited the Hoboken hackerspace, learned how to solder, and are going to make a arduino project that makes a programmable video game that attaches to a TV.

That is the new heathkit.


You sound like a cool parent. I wish they had Maker Faires when I was a kid. Of course I did have classic Radio Shack, which the youngsters today don't. Arduino is an awesome way to get them hooked quickly. With the short attention spans of kids today it's nice to have quick results without too much of a learning curve. It's a great time to be a geek!
2012-10-12 05:03:31 PM  
1 votes:

kroonermanblack: Tr0mBoNe: I was more in to lego, meccano, and making rockets.

Yes, I am an engineer now.

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

I'm...not an engineer now. Damnit. There goes that self confidence and self image again. JERK?


The toy was called Capsella. It was one of my favorites. I want to get a set for the oldest nephew but they are pricey now.

Last year my sister got him a 'chemistry' set disguised as a wizard's spell kit. It had citric acid, food coloring, baking soda, beet powder, a few plastic test tubes, a glitter filled wand and a few other items. It did very little to explain the science but gave it all a sheen of magic. After my blood pressure went back down and I stopped muttering about luddites we went outside and did the experiments while I explained what was actually happening. We had fun. Afterwards I turned it into an economics lesson by showing him that the kit came with tiny ammounts of the chemicals for a lot of money but most of them were already in the kitchen.
Legos are great but with all the specialty pieces and themed sets they seem more like model kits these days. This year he's getting a motorized erector set and the Mad Scientists Club books. It's up to me to prevent this kid from losing his imagination. Me and the old lady are not breeders so the nephews are the closest I have to a legacy. Being the cool uncle is way more fun than being the dad anyway.
2012-10-12 04:57:52 PM  
1 votes:

FishyFred: Trying to popularize chemistry sets again can't hurt, but if you really want to make science cool again, step up and pay teachers what they are worth and stop letting gym teachers double as science teachers so they can "teach the controversy."


Sure, let's pay teachers what they are worth. And also make them pay what normal people pay for their healthcare (paycheck deductions and co-pays), and they can contribute to a 401k like everyone else. Also no union, and if you don't attend the teacher's convention, you don't get paid.
2012-10-12 04:49:07 PM  
1 votes:
Pick up Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can do At Home - But Probably Shouldn't if you don't want to bother with neutered home chemistry sets.
2012-10-12 04:49:00 PM  
1 votes:

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.
2012-10-12 04:30:13 PM  
1 votes:
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.
2012-10-12 04:20:26 PM  
1 votes:

pottie: After that they gave me a Heath Kit that allowed me to build a tube type stereo amplifier.


Ahh the joys of burning yourself with a Weller Soldering gun plugging in a homemade appliance hoping you shielded all the wires correctly and chassis of the project was not live when you flipped the metal switch.
2012-10-12 04:14:03 PM  
1 votes:
When I was a kid in the early 60's, my folks gave me Chemcraft chemistry set. I think the box promised 50 experiments, but I only remember one and I'm sure the smell from that one still lingers in the basement of that old house. Next they gave me a lead soldier kit which allowed me to turn molten lead into World War 2 soldiers in three different poses. After that they gave me a Heath Kit that allowed me to build a tube type stereo amplifier. It wasn't until they gave me a black power pistol that I began to become suspicious that they were really trying to kill me and make it look like an accident.
2012-10-12 03:52:35 PM  
1 votes:

Somaticasual: The problem with modern chemistry sets is that, through the years of idiotic media scares, they're down to about 5 or 6 ridiculously boring experiments.


THIS.

Last Christmas I bought my nephews some "chemistry sets" which turned out to contain vinegar, salt, sugar, and some food coloring. I told them they could make cucumber salad dressing if they really felt ambitious..
2012-10-12 03:47:51 PM  
1 votes:
The problem with modern chemistry sets is that, through the years of idiotic media scares, they're down to about 5 or 6 ridiculously boring experiments.
2012-10-12 03:46:30 PM  
1 votes:

Absurdity: We are planning on getting some litmus paper so she can test things around the house.


You can make your own version using some paper towel and juice from certain fruits or vegetables (blueberries, red cabbage, etc).

I had a chemistry set back in the days when kids could buy potassium nitrate off the shelf in pharmacies. Good times...

And +1 to the Radio Shack electronics kits. I had the 200-in-one:
i.ebayimg.com
2012-10-12 03:39:03 PM  
1 votes:
I have a question for any librarians

fta:

One of the museum's librarians donated the kit; he and his brother had played with it as children. "They weren't very good with chemistry," Seeger says, which may explain the donor's career choice.

it's not clear from the article whether the emphasized portion above came from the librarian or the writer. However, I remember back in the day that I had thought about going into archival studies to work in libraries with old texts (I attended a university with one of the greatest library collections on earth). it would have required some degree of chemistry knowledge. ignorant of chemistry, I abandoned the pursuit.

so, this librarian works with artifacts... wouldn't some chemistry knowledge be helpful, if not necessary? or am I just being stupid, and nothing in this library is old enough to need proper preservation or care?
2012-10-12 03:28:16 PM  
1 votes:
Just got my daughter a snap circuit set for her fifth birthday. It is a little advanced for her, but she can already recognize the difference between series and parallel circuits. I definitely recommend it.

snapcircuits.net/

We have also done a volcano and other small experiments at home. We are planning on getting some litmus paper so she can test things around the house.

There are lots of things you can do and we are always looking for new ideas.

/Not science related, but we also picked up a world map puzzle for her just yesterday.
2012-10-12 03:23:00 PM  
1 votes:

Diogenes: MilesTeg: [farm4.static.flickr.com image 500x375] 

Still have somewhere...

I LOVED mine. Dad was an electrical engineer and got me started with a solid foundation. Best thing Radio Shack ever made.


OK, that and my Trash 80.
2012-10-12 02:33:53 PM  
1 votes:
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!!
2012-10-12 02:16:57 PM  
1 votes:

Leeds: I used my chem set to declare war on the local ant populations.

It's amazing how many more ants you can kill with biological attacks when compared to conventional concentrated light-based weaponry.


Fuel and a match baby.. I took the nuclear option very early. Louisiana has some nasty ants.
2012-10-12 02:09:20 PM  
1 votes:
Sad to see these go. Just think how much further ahead we could be in Meth technology.
2012-10-12 01:49:37 PM  
1 votes:
I used my chem set to declare war on the local ant populations.

It's amazing how many more ants you can kill with biological attacks when compared to conventional concentrated light-based weaponry.
2012-10-12 01:35:54 PM  
1 votes:

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.
 
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