This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Beauty of Chemistry Sets

Yesterday, my daughter Danielle and I were trying out the chemistry set Santa had given her for Christmas. I use the term “chemistry set” rather loosely, since the only chemical to be found in the kit was baking soda. It’s more like a science kit with the word “chemistry” on the box. Now this lack of chemicals is probably a good thing since Danielle, who is 8 years old, will be unable to poison herself and, as it turns out, is more than satisfied with generating the kinds of messes that can only be produced with liberal amounts of baking soda and vinegar. Fortunately for her, I’m not the kind of person who feels the need to follow recommended reagent guidelines.

I'm not sure how old I was when I received my chemistry set, but I’m sure I was less than 10 at the time and, quite frankly, I’m not sure how I managed to survive the experience.

Actually it was more of a surprise that my parents survived.

There I was, armed with an alcohol lamp, a collection of somewhat poisonous chemicals, a booklet of instructions, an assistant 3 years younger than myself (my brother), and with absolutely no clue as to what I was getting into. I don’t know if my parents just had a lot of trust in me or if they simply had no inkling of the mayhem that could have occurred, despite the periodic release of various odors into our basement. I recall one experiment described as “making a volcano”, which should have set off alarm bells in my dad’s head, but which only resulted in the formation of a goopy, bubbling mess which had very little in common with a volcano other than the production of significant levels of sulfur dioxide. If I detected these types of smells coming out of my basement today, I’d be grabbing a fire extinguisher and dialing 911 before I hit the bottom of the stairs.

Nevertheless, my daughter has shown interest in both science and math and is delighted to know that I’m setting up a little lab in the basement. Because of this, I’ll eventually get her a real chemistry set and see if I can show her as much trust as my parents showed me.

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