Sunday, June 8, 2008

Do Chemistry at Home!

From Geek Dad, this sounds like one wicked cool book:

The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments is a hefty tome with over 400 pages. The initial chapters focus on preliminaries such as maintaining a laboratory notebook, safety, as well as two huge sections on equipping a home laboratory with glassware and chemicals -- remember, you can't rely on a set to give you everything you need. Next comes a laboratory skills chapter, covering measurements, filtration, separations, and so on.

It goes without saying that the section on lab safety is as robust as it is necessary. However, Thompson took it a step further by making a conscious decision to leave out any illegal content such as explosives and meth labs. "Obviously, there's a very real danger involved, and I'd feel terrible if a kid blew himself up," Thompson explained. And of course, in today's world, an author has to pay attention to legal liability issues, both for himself and the reader. "Back 40 years ago when I was a teenager, the local cops pretty much looked the other way when kids played around with explosives. Making explosives nowadays is a sucker bet. You're going to get caught, and you're likely to face federal charges. It just isn't worth the risk."

And then Thompson jumps into the experiments. They start off easy -- the author targets middle schoolers with the initial projects. Here are my favorites:

10:1: Reduction of Copper Ore to Copper Metal -- smelt'em if you got 'em! I always wondered how this was done.

16.1: Produce Hydrogen and Oxygen by Electrolysis of Water -- never again worry about running out of rocket fuel and air on those long space voyages.

However, one of the most tantalizing sections is the one on forensic chemistry. The final chapter, it's kind of a sneak peek at Thompson's next book, which will be about home forensics experiments. It includes such experiments as detecting blood, testing for drugs and revealing latent fingerprints.

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