Monday, 13 March 2017

Nothing Stays The Same Forever,

is a phrase I often think of,

looking back to the late 1950s of my youth and growing in to the 1960s a new world was opened, chemistry sets, early chemistry sets had all sorts of dangerous substances, which for us meant they were fun, potassium nitrate, for example, is used in gunpowder, fireworks, and rocket fuel, while nitric acid (also used in rocket fuel) and sulphuric acid are highly corrosive, sodium ferrocyanide, which reacts with iron ions to create a Prussian blue dye, is now classified as a poison (thanks to the “cyanide” part), calcium hypochlorite could be mixed to create free chlorine gas, which wreaks havoc on the human respiratory system, we could make things go boom, bang and flash or build our own batteries and engines, even bend glass with alcohol lamps and craft glass animals,

 but now days kids chemistry sets have in a word become boring, take the one above, “60 Fun Activities With No Chemicals.” the irony is that these 60 activities, including growing crystals, growing plants, making bubbles, and creating “slime and gook” do, in fact, require chemicals, what the makers mean is that their set has no dangerous chemicals, no acids, no explosives, no alcohol, no poisons, no Bunsen burners, or even glass test tubes, beakers, or flasks, none of the fun stuff that made chemistry so interesting in other words, why is that? We can thank three post-modern horrors: Meth labs, homegrown terrorism, and liability lawsuits, litigation has made manufacturers reluctant to market anything remotely risky to children, even glass, many metals in their elemental form, such as lithium, red phosphorus, sodium, and potassium are highly regulated by the FBI, as they can be used to produce meth, and anything that could be used in a bomb, like ammonium nitrate (fertiliser), faces intense scrutiny by the Feds, the downside to all of this is that we get namby-pamby sets that have real chemists fretting that kids might just think science is a yawn,

oh for the good old days when aspiring young chemist could look forward to receiving a Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, released in 1951 which was a tad before my time, kids could play with three “very low-level” radioactive sources (alpha, beta, and gamma particles), a U-239 Geiger counter, a Wilson cloud chamber, a spinthariscope, four samples of uranium-bearing ores, and an electroscope to measure radioactivity, Ah those were the days!

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