CHF in Newscripts: Chemistry Kit Chemophobia 

March 7, 2011 - Washington, DC

From Newscripts, Chemical and Engineering News

In this glorious age of chemophobia, chalk up another victory for mass hysteria: Now you can buy the CHEMISTRY60 chemistry set for children featuring “60 fun activities with no chemicals.”

I’m certain many Newscripts readers learned to love chemistry during childhood as they experimented with science kits in tin boxes that contained real chemicals. The Chemical Heritage Foundation, in Philadelphia, has a wonderful collection of those kits. A recent article by Rosie Cook in the group’s spring 2010 Chemical Heritage Magazine mentions a number of such chemistry sets for kids, including Gilbert, Skil Craft, Handy Andy, and the Porter Chemcraft kits.

Like reader Paul Johns of Washington, D.C., who pointed out the “chemical-free” chemical kit to Newscripts, I had a chemistry set growing up, too. It had an alcohol lamp for heating up solutions. Imagine giving that to a nine year old today.

My kit also had many containers, the contents of which I’d mix in the most cavalier fashion to see whether the resulting concoction would smoke, fizz, turn colors, or smell. I must confess that playing with that kit did not turn me into a scientist, but it did give me a healthy respect and admiration for all things chemical.

How does Elenco Electronics, the Chemistry 60 manufacturer, succeed in teaching about topics such as acids, bases, solutions, and colloids without chemicals? It appears that the “chemicals” the kit does not contain are the substances you supply from your kitchen cupboard. The set does include goggles, safety glasses, vials, test tubes, and other lab implements. Of course these plastic tools are chemicals in their own right, but why get technical?

Still, I find it reassuring that, as benign as it appears to be, the Chemistry 60 kit does have an element of danger, just like those kits of yore. The manufacturer cautions parents that the product contains small magnets. “Swallowed magnets can stick together across intestines causing serious infections and death,” Elenco warns. But at least children playing with the Chemistry 60 won’t be able to blow up the family manse. I came close to doing that once or twice, but parental supervision saved the day.


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