The 12 Angry Men blog has a good little rant about the death of the chemistry set, blaming it on lawyers, the war on terror, and the war on some drugs (specifically, the war on meth). These sets were key to interesting untold millions of kids in science and the scientific method.
Today however, the Chemistry Set is toast. Current instantiations are embarrassing. There are no chemicals except those which react at low energy to produce color changes. No glass tubes or beakers, certainly no Bunsen burners or alcohol burners (remember the clear blue flames when the alcohol spilled out over the table). Today’s sets cover perfume mixing and creation of luminol (the ‘CSI effect’ I suppose).
In some States, you need a FBI criminal background check to purchase chemicals. Some metals, like lithium, red phosphorus, sodium and potassium, are almost impossible to purchase in elemental form. This is thanks to their use in manufacturing methamphetamine. Sulphur and potassium nitrate, both useful chemicals, are being classified as class C fireworks (here is a good precursor link). Mail order suppliers of science products are raided. Many over-the-counter compounds now require what is essentially a (poor) background check. Even fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) is under intense scrutiny. Where does this trend end? Ten years from now, will the list include table salt, seawater and natural gas – precursors to many industrical chemicals?
(Photo credit: Ancient Chemistry Set, a Creative Commons Attribution-License photo from Vortistic's Flickr stream)
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