Our house had two or three of the things around from my three older brothers — you know, the old Gilbert or Chemcraft chemistry sets, complete with potentially dangerous chemicals, test tubes, an alcohol lamp, a couple of beakers and stands, and instructions for how to make cool reactions with warnings about not making things explode.
We all made things explode, of course. That’s the fun stuff. Making jellied alcohol was fun, too — older brother Wes did that at Halloween, as I recall, the better to make a flaming hand (once was enough, thanks). We didn’t worry so much about the poisonous qualities of hydrogen sulfide, as we did worry about how to claim somebody else was suffering from flatulence when we made it. The kits and their metal boxes were in poor repair by the time I got around to them, but other kids in the neighborhood had new ones, and we always had the labs at the junior high and high school, which were stocked with enough dangerous stuff to keep us on the edge of blowing up the school, we thought (probably incorrectly).
One sign of laboratory experience: The acid holes in the Levi jeans. Older son Kenny recently discovered these things still happen in a lab at college. It had never occurred to him to worry about it before — one of his favorite t-shirts, too. (Holes in clothes appear not to be the fashion statement they were for his parents . . .)
12 Angry Men laments the wussification of these old chemistry sets. No danger anymore, he says.
But someone else claims such kits may be illegal under Homeland Security and DEA rules. Heck, they say even Erlenmeyer flasks are illegal in Texas. They used to be very popular among the secretaries in the biology department because they made such fine vases for the single-stemmed flowers their grad-student admirers could afford. Gotta see what’s up with that.
Technology changes so you can’t get it anymore.
But, kids with solid chemistry experience make more money in the real world — especially chemical engineers. Here’s a Catch-22: Kids can make more money if they have the experience to get the job, but they can’t get the experience until they get the job.
Update, November 1: The PBS/Wired Science segment on kids doing chemistry, and chemistry sets