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(The New York Times)   New York Times insists modern chemistry sets are superior to the ones of days gone by, because they teach children modern-day skills like writing turd-polishing articles about nancified chemistry sets for the New York Times   (nytimes.com) divider line 64
    More: Obvious, chemistry, polishing, beakers, test tubes, history of science, writings  
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2290 clicks; posted to Geek » on 25 Dec 2012 at 12:27 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-12-25 12:01:38 AM

Kids who are inspired by goal-oriented educational toys are the dullest of the lot.


But the movement away from real chem sets isn't because of some desire to "democratize" learning, but simply due to the creeping regulation that strangles the toy industry.


Yours truly,

I. Mainway


2.bp.blogspot.com

 
2012-12-25 12:05:26 AM
If it's not capable of producing explosions or toxic gases it ain't sh*t
 
2012-12-25 12:05:26 AM
Back in the day, they had kits where you could build your own geiger counter...complete with radioactive sample and stuff.  Now it's all whimpy stuff.
 
2012-12-25 12:17:43 AM
The chemistry kit I had as a kid specifically stated that I should ask my Dad for some Everclear to fuel the burner. Good times. Good times.
 
2012-12-25 12:32:26 AM
Back in my day, chemistry sets weighed 70 lbs, and I had to walk uphill to school with it every day!
 
2012-12-25 12:33:28 AM

SnarfVader: The chemistry kit I had as a kid specifically stated that I should ask my Dad for some Everclear to fuel the burner. Good times. Good times.


That's farking awesome.
 
2012-12-25 12:34:24 AM
I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by.

www.instablogsimages.com
 
2012-12-25 12:46:54 AM
No thread on chemistry sets is complete without Robert Brent and Harry Lazarus's Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. After you've been introduced to introductory elements like oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and chlorine (!), work your way through the book all the way to making your own synthetic fibers and plastics, such as rayon (synthesis of bakelite was left as an exercise for the student).

50 years later, you'll probably get arrested just for posessing the equipment on page 8, and banned from public office for daring to use the metric system on page 14, but hey, America's safer for it. And its leaders wonder why their citizens are falling behind in STEM.
 
2012-12-25 01:10:28 AM
Back in my day, we would walk down to our neighborhood trailer house and if we brought enough packets of cold medicine chemical bob would show us how to shake and bake.

Don't forget the two liter of Mountain Dew, boys and girls
 
2012-12-25 01:16:42 AM
old school chemistry sets that allowed you to make explosives and actually had dangerous chemicals in them were the best
 
2012-12-25 01:50:25 AM
I'm not interested in democratizing learning. Access should be open for all but progress should be by meritocracy only. No you don't get a participation ribbon for just showing up.
 
2012-12-25 02:55:33 AM
When I was a kid, I got caught in this weird valley of chemistry sets. Test tubes, beakers, some packages of dry chemicals that could really pose some poisoning or explosive risks in certain combinations.

No bunsen burner. No method of catalyst whatsoever. It was the most useless farking chemistry set ever.
Thankfully, there were some neat wire-together-your-own radio kits instead.
 
2012-12-25 02:58:05 AM

AverageAmericanGuy: But the movement away from real chem sets isn't because of some desire to "democratize" learning, but simply due to the creeping regulation that strangles the toy industry.


It's not regulation, it's the fear of litigation.
 
2012-12-25 03:04:05 AM
shiat, my chemistry set included potassium cyanide.

Today I realize it was a bad ingredient to include in something sold at toy stores.
 
2012-12-25 03:09:06 AM
With us, it wasn't so much chemistry sets. More of Gilbert Erector sets and Archer/ Radio Shack mini-kits with solderless spring-loaded connectors. The components were shiat quality factory seconds, and the instructions left out *just* enough information to drive me to tears trying to build a farking radio or oscillator circuit. To this day, Forrest J Mimms the 3rd had better not cross my path in a dark alley. I won't be responsible for the consequences if I see him.
 
2012-12-25 03:38:49 AM

Twilight Farkle: No thread on chemistry sets is complete without Robert Brent and Harry Lazarus's Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. After you've been introduced to introductory elements like oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and chlorine (!), work your way through the book all the way to making your own synthetic fibers and plastics, such as rayon (synthesis of bakelite was left as an exercise for the student).

50 years later, you'll probably get arrested just for posessing the equipment on page 8, and banned from public office for daring to use the metric system on page 14, but hey, America's safer for it. And its leaders wonder why their citizens are falling behind in STEM.


An online bud recently sent me a About.com link on how to have my 82 year old mother declared mentally incompetent so we can put her into a nice assisted living center before my (caretaker) sister loses it and kills her. I love the net.
 
2012-12-25 03:41:45 AM
As a child of the '80s/90's with a penchant for science, and after seeing how shiat electronics and chemistry sets were, I got my parents to take me to a specialist chemical supply store and radio shack. The deal was that if I got arrested or killed, I wasn't allowed to go anymore.

........I think the book on improvised explosives from the army surplus store was the final straw, really.
 
2012-12-25 03:49:42 AM

mrlewish: I'm not interested in democratizing learning. Access should be open for all but progress should be by meritocracy only. No you don't get a participation ribbon for just showing up.


This is the glory of the internet. Anyone should be able to access any information, but only those who get it can advance much without teachers.
 
2012-12-25 06:29:23 AM
imgs.xkcd.com

//probably the only time this one will be obligatory, so might as well.
 
2012-12-25 06:44:57 AM
Not too long ago on fark there was a thread about the chemistry sets of yesteryear.
 
2012-12-25 06:46:02 AM
I mixed household ammonia and some iodine crystals from a renewable water purification bottle and made NI3 and found it had a brissance higher than TNT by blowing a hole in my finger with a BB sized piece. My ears rang for a day. Shortly after that I made some paint store thermite with aluminum and iron oxide powder and put it in 2 flower pots layered with sand and used it to drill a hole through a concrete slab that been a sidewalk and was in an empty lot. Watching molten iron pour out the bottom of that slab scared me worse than the hole in my finger and then watching it catch the dirt on fire was impressive too.
 
2012-12-25 08:17:02 AM
biatch all you want about old school chem sets, LEGO Mindstorms is way cooler than anything sold when I was a kid.
 
2012-12-25 09:49:51 AM

Twilight Farkle: No thread on chemistry sets is complete without Robert Brent and Harry Lazarus's Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. After you've been introduced to introductory elements like oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and chlorine (!), work your way through the book all the way to making your own synthetic fibers and plastics, such as rayon (synthesis of bakelite was left as an exercise for the student).

50 years later, you'll probably get arrested just for posessing the equipment on page 8, and banned from public office for daring to use the metric system on page 14, but hey, America's safer for it. And its leaders wonder why their citizens are falling behind in STEM.


Do you have evidence that such chemistry kits are available in countries with higher science and math scores? If so it would make an interesting infographic.
 
2012-12-25 09:55:48 AM
i had a chemistry set in the mid 90's and it was just as dangerous as the ones of yore. We did not have the radioactivity, we had to wait until middle school before we got access to that.
 
2012-12-25 10:07:34 AM
They can't all be like Johnny Carson's boyhood Chemistry set.
 
2012-12-25 10:14:00 AM

Twilight Farkle: you'll probably get arrested just for posessing the equipment on page 8


Must be the asbestos
 
2012-12-25 10:17:04 AM

mrlewish: I'm not interested in democratizing learning. Access should be open for all but progress should be by meritocracy only. No you don't get a participation ribbon for just showing up.


That's incredibly fascistic and selfish. Everyone should be equal in all respects. It's the Progressive way!
 
2012-12-25 10:23:45 AM
Back when I was a kid in the '80's, we still had kinda okay chemistry sets. Then a cousin of mine gave me his set from the late '70's.

I looked at "chemistry sets" last month to see if they were worth getting for my kid.

Nope. If I want to teach him basic chemistry, I'd be better off buying up glassware, lab supplies and chemicals on my own, and teaching him myself (haven't had Chemistry since Honors Chemistry in High School, I'll admit, I'd have to study up on it myself).

Looking on Google, I was pleasantly surprised that you can still buy up lab supplies and a whole lot of chemicals from supply houses online.

It would probably be a lot more actually educational than the "please don't sue us" kits sold nowadays.
 
2012-12-25 10:24:24 AM

assjuice:
Do you have evidence that such chemistry kits are available in countries with higher science and math scores? If so it would make an interesting infographic.


The other NY Times link has some insight into this - during the rise of chemistry sets science, and careers in science, were held in high esteem. Now science is just nerdy and held in contempt by a lot of the country.
 
2012-12-25 10:58:44 AM

The Evil That Lies In The Hearts Of Men: assjuice:
Do you have evidence that such chemistry kits are available in countries with higher science and math scores? If so it would make an interesting infographic.

The other NY Times link has some insight into this - during the rise of chemistry sets science, and careers in science, were held in high esteem. Now science is just nerdy and held in contempt by a lot of the country.


Eggheads have always been held in contempt, except when we needed them to beat the commies in the fifties. They once we had enough nukes, we knew that the wolverines could do with guts what the nerds coulnt do with a thousand megatons of grey matter. That said, all my science experiments were of the hamster huey and the gooey kablooey variety.
 
2012-12-25 11:50:16 AM
3.bp.blogspot.com


The question is not whether you can own a gun...because you can.

What you can't do is own ANY gun you want. A gun is a commercial product. It can be regulated, controlled, recalled, restricted...just like any other commercial product.

I for one am not going to sit here and listen to you bad MOUTH sensible gun restrictions. Gentlemen
 
2012-12-25 11:52:51 AM
Forget it. I'm on a roll.
 
2012-12-25 11:58:41 AM
They're safer. Therefore they suck.
 
2012-12-25 12:01:00 PM

The Evil That Lies In The Hearts Of Men: Now science is just nerdy and held in contempt by most of the country.


ftfy
 
2012-12-25 12:03:13 PM

Silverstaff: Back when I was a kid in the '80's, we still had kinda okay chemistry sets. Then a cousin of mine gave me his set from the late '70's.

I looked at "chemistry sets" last month to see if they were worth getting for my kid.

Nope. If I want to teach him basic chemistry, I'd be better off buying up glassware, lab supplies and chemicals on my own, and teaching him myself (haven't had Chemistry since Honors Chemistry in High School, I'll admit, I'd have to study up on it myself).

Looking on Google, I was pleasantly surprised that you can still buy up lab supplies and a whole lot of chemicals from supply houses online.

It would probably be a lot more actually educational than the "please don't sue us" kits sold nowadays.


you're now guilty of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. welcome to block nine, cherry butt boy...
 
2012-12-25 12:10:36 PM
I remember repeatedly checking out a children's chemistry project book from the 1950s back in the 1980s when I was in elementary school. The amazing number of projects in that book, oh man...make chloroform, generate pure hydrogen into a balloon so you could light it on fire, etc. There wasn't a million safety warnings, I guess they assumed you would know it was dangerous already.
 
2012-12-25 12:36:36 PM

Boudica's War Tampon: The question is not whether you can own a gun...because you can.

What you can't do is own ANY gun you want. A gun is a commercial product. It can be regulated, controlled, recalled, restricted...just like any other commercial product.

I for one am not going to sit here and listen to you bad MOUTH sensible gun restrictions. Gentlemen


Don't ruin Tim Matheson and Otter for me with an ill conceived and poorly written political screed.
 
2012-12-25 12:44:02 PM
FunkOut: 1962 Encyclopaedia Britannica myself. I didn't need to make chloroform, my Dad had similar dichloromethane (it dissolves Plexiglas so it's used to weld the stuff) for me to enjoy. Sniffed it once and it knocked me out, just before noticing that the smell was indeed as described. Also got a great gunpowder recipe from it.

Then there was the kid's Encyclopaedia, the French Grolier. It had more tame experiments, like boiling water in a paper container over a candle, and it also showed how to make a set of Morse code "CBs" out of vacuum tubes which involve high voltages. They suggested 90V "B" batteries which weren't easily available so I went with the wall outlet. Etc...

Then there were the books from the library, like how to make spaceships out of Evian bottles which involved shears and box cutters, oh my.
 
2012-12-25 12:47:18 PM
Never had a chemistry set, had a father who was a high school science teacher. When I was ten we saw a small cannon at a friend's house that used used calcium carbide to make acetylene gas that was lit with a flint. He helped me make one out of one inch pipe and got me a 5lb can of calcium carbide. When I was twelve I found a book on his shelf that was titled Pyrotechnics that detailed how to make fireworks. As any good parent would do he brought me home 2lb containers of the chemicals need to make fireworks. We had a spot on the lawn where I tested my creations were grass didn't grow for years
 
2012-12-25 12:50:05 PM

Just Another OC Homeless Guy: mrlewish: I'm not interested in democratizing learning. Access should be open for all but progress should be by meritocracy only. No you don't get a participation ribbon for just showing up.

That's incredibly fascistic and selfish. Everyone should be equal in all respects. It's the Progressive way!


Well bless your heart, you just try so hard.
 
2012-12-25 12:58:29 PM
My ITG 1950s chemistry set would be a vial of water and a vial of formic acid, both unlabeled. That's all.

It would come with a single sheet of paper, on which was typed:

INSTRUCTIONS

Without opening the vials, determine which of these clear, colorless liquids is harmless water. Open the vial you have identified as water and pour it on your head.

At the conclusion of this experiment, you will either have taught yourself something about chemistry, or something about your limits. You are welcome.
 
2012-12-25 01:00:28 PM
I wonder what wild and dangerous toys people will be reminiscing about in the future. My guess is something to do with the internet. They'll put chips in your head that tell the computer your age and what you can access and whatnot.
 
2012-12-25 01:02:27 PM

SnarfVader: The chemistry kit I had as a kid specifically stated that I should ask my Dad for some Everclear to fuel the burner. Good times. Good times.


I remember that!

I thought it was weird that they mentioned your dad specifically by name, but he was great. Didn't even bat an eye at all these 9-year-olds asking him for hooch.
 
2012-12-25 01:09:28 PM
semiotix: Can we assume that both vials are of the same material, size, transparent to visible light, and contain the same volume of liquid?
 
2012-12-25 01:22:09 PM

Quantum Apostrophe: semiotix: Can we assume that both vials are of the same material, size, transparent to visible light, and contain the same volume of liquid?


ERRATA

Some previous editions of the Semiotix Home Chemistry and Life Instruction Fun-Time Kit for Kids™ neglected to include important information in the instructions. The following paragraphs were omitted:

"As with all things in life, you may assume nothing. You may not assume that we have made this easy for you. You may not assume that we have chosen to coddle you by doing all the work for you. You may not assume we have diluted the acid to make it safe for children. Your grandfather was scarcely older than you when he died at the Somme, because the Huns did not choose to coddle him--yet he died a man, at least.

"On our personal honor, however, we pledge the following. One of these vials contains harmless water. One of them contains a dangerous acid that will melt a hole in your scalp (and a very large hole indeed if you have not educated yourself in advance about the proper way of neutralizing acid). And the person who is holding these instructions would be better off going through life hideously scarred by acid than as someone who ran in fear at the first sign of a challenge."

We regret the error.
 
2012-12-25 01:26:01 PM

semiotix: Quantum Apostrophe: semiotix: Can we assume that both vials are of the same material, size, transparent to visible light, and contain the same volume of liquid?

ERRATA
Some previous editions of the Semiotix Home Chemistry and Life Instruction Fun-Time Kit for Kids™ neglected to include important information in the instructions. The following paragraphs were omitted:

"As with all things in life, you may assume nothing. You may not assume that we have made this easy for you. You may not assume that we have chosen to coddle you by doing all the work for you. You may not assume we have diluted the acid to make it safe for children. Your grandfather was scarcely older than you when he died at the Somme, because the Huns did not choose to coddle him--yet he died a man, at least.

"On our personal honor, however, we pledge the following. One of these vials contains harmless water. One of them contains a dangerous acid that will melt a hole in your scalp (and a very large hole indeed if you have not educated yourself in advance about the proper way of neutralizing acid). And the person who is holding these instructions would be better off going through life hideously scarred by acid than as someone who ran in fear at the first sign of a challenge."

We regret the error.


formic acid smells just use HCl.
 
2012-12-25 01:56:55 PM
I think the ideal set would contain a third, opaque vial, filled with concentrated potassium cyanide solution.

"Open the vial you have chosen and pour it over your head. If you are stupid enough to do this based on a set of printed instructions, without smelling or otherwise testing the vial's contents, please immediately ingest the contents of the third vial."
 
2012-12-25 01:59:36 PM

utah dude: formic acid smells just use HCl.


Can't smell it without opening the vial.

The correct answer is to observe that there's no rule against convincing someone else to open either vial. Choose a vial at random, find someone you don't particularly like, and ask them to chug the contents of said vial. If they keel over in horrible "my organs are melting" pain, that was the acid. The moral of the story is that all things are possible with a sufficient disregard for human life. Not a chemistry lesson as such, but still an important one for the kiddies to learn.

(Yes, I suppose you could determine properties like the melting point, boiling point, or density without opening the vials, but I don't trust semiotix not to have dissolved other substances into the vials specifically to fark with those properties.)
 
2012-12-25 02:04:35 PM

semiotix:
ERRATA


(Tricky question. If they're opaque, we don't know if they're filled to the same level, so we can't just mass them and call the heavier one the formic acid. Because we can't open them, we can't just measure the volume of liquid inside and subtract the mass of the empty container. Indeed, we can't even assume the two vials are identical.)

How 'bout this? Put both vials in the fridge for a few hours. Shake the vials, just in case one of them contains a supercooled liquid, because if it does, you want to make sure it freezes. Come back in a few more hours. Shake again, just to be sure. The one that still sloshes around at fridge temperatures of 3-5C is the one that contains the water. The frozen one will be the formic acid.

Either that, or your fridge temperature is set at over 8C, in which case you have plenty of money budgeted to replace spoiled food (or a solid health plan that offers a frequent-flyer discount on food poisoning) and can easily afford treatment if you guessed wrong.

If the makers of the kit got a deal on vials with very smooth interior surfaces, such that the vials lacked any nucleation points at which the freezing process could begin, you could still get burned, but at least your odds are better than 50/50.
 
2012-12-25 02:11:51 PM

utah dude: semiotix: Quantum Apostrophe: semiotix: Can we assume that both vials are of the same material, size, transparent to visible light, and contain the same volume of liquid?

ERRATA
Some previous editions of the Semiotix Home Chemistry and Life Instruction Fun-Time Kit for Kids™ neglected to include important information in the instructions. The following paragraphs were omitted:

"As with all things in life, you may assume nothing. You may not assume that we have made this easy for you. You may not assume that we have chosen to coddle you by doing all the work for you. You may not assume we have diluted the acid to make it safe for children. Your grandfather was scarcely older than you when he died at the Somme, because the Huns did not choose to coddle him--yet he died a man, at least.

"On our personal honor, however, we pledge the following. One of these vials contains harmless water. One of them contains a dangerous acid that will melt a hole in your scalp (and a very large hole indeed if you have not educated yourself in advance about the proper way of neutralizing acid). And the person who is holding these instructions would be better off going through life hideously scarred by acid than as someone who ran in fear at the first sign of a challenge."

We regret the error.

formic acid smells just use HCl.


But then you wouldn't soon be covered in swarms of ants!
 
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