Chemistry kit with no chemicals

The liability-phobic dilution of kids' science has reached its apotheosis with "CHEMISTRY 60": a chemistry kit that promises "60 fun activities with no chemicals." Kids are expected to supply the chemicals from their parents' kitchen cupboards. As Sean at Make points out, this is a moderately clever move on the part of the manufacturer, as most of their competition have such inoffensive materials that this is a kind of end-run around the overlawyers, bubblewrapped status-quo for kids' science kits.
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.

Chemistry Kit Chemophobia, Goof-proof Golf Balls


  1. Yeah, mine had a spirit-lamp. And nitric & sulphuric acid, copper sulphate, sulphur, potassium nitrate, etc, etc.

  2. Cue the pedantry that the ‘chemistry-free’ chemical set still contains chemicals, since all physical matter is chemical.

  3. Um… this is nothing new. My chemistry kit from the late 1980s didn’t come with any chemicals. It had stuff for making salt water batteries and testing strips for determining acidity.

    I don’t remember what else was in the kit. But there were plenty of test tubes and pipettes.

    On a slightly related note, my favorite chemical accident story was from my high school chem teacher. Before plastics, they used to store hydrochloric acid in wax bottles. Which is awesome if you don’t live in Southern Arizona (you already know where this story is going don’t you?). One August they came back from summer vacation and the wax bottles in the supply room had melted. And the metal shelf had been eaten away. And a chunk of the floor…

  4. Back in my day, we mixed borax with toilet bowl cleaner in a paper cup to see what toys we could melt.

    *Brandishes cane menacingly*

  5. Just imagine giving a spirit burner to a 9 year old. Won’t someone please think of the children.

    I expect the child could burn spirits.
    Maybe they could :
    Try some and be unpleasantly ill at the taste.
    Set fire to something else, so small as to be burnable with matches anyway.
    Spill it on something and dissolve some glue holding it together.

    Um, that’s about it really. Why is it so unimaginable to give a 9 year old a spirit burner?

    I had a chemistry set with burner and dangerous chemicals. Like acids etc. I was always disappointed that most of the chemicals were nearly all the same colour (transparent fluid or white powder). I wanted some scary green and glowing gloop like they had on TV.

  6. Ha – my little one is too small for his own Chem Set, but when he gets older, he’s going to have a real one (e.g., ), not these “things” that rob kids of any meaningful experiences.

    I’m reminded of the Jack Williamson story “With Folded Hands” in which robots benevolently take over with the aim to ‘protect the human race’. Consequently, no dangerous activities are allowed. The central character’s son complains when the robots take away his bow and arrow, replacing it with soft plastic blocks.

  7. Yeah, imagine a country where you’d give a REAL science kit, including an alcohol lamp, to a 9 year old. You might even think that it would be a country that would actually be an innovation leader in 10 to 20 years, instead of a nation of uninspired, overweight burger flippers.

  8. “Imagine giving that to a nine year old today.”

    OTOH, household bleach is more dangerous than just about anything in a real chemistry set.

  9. When I was a kid someone gave me a copy of the army manual 31-210 it was a book on home made explosives, pyrotechnics, and guns for special forces soldiers behind enemy lines. Oh what fun we had until we realized that we were risking a campout at juvie.

    1. I remember one glorious summer when someone gave my friends and I, all Girl Guides, an SAS survival manual.

      By the end of August, we’d caught a deer and had a BBQ.

      1. I remember buying that book when I was in junior high school. Loved it and used it well. Not as well as you did apparently, ’cause that’s all kinds of awesome. Still laughing.

  10. With the possible exception of litmus paper, I don’t see anything in the photo of the kit that you couldn’t also find in the kitchen. So basically instead of a kit it could be a 100% free web site.

  11. This reminds me of the ‘no-hit’ pinatas I’ve heard psycho parents blog about online..there’s nothing better than watching a bynch of 5-year olds beat the crap out of a paper mache bull.

    That said, the set above does fill a need, but they should have called it the ‘food science’ set, because it probably wants you to use things like lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda. They could have made it a more awesome kit by including a hot plate, mini grill, and some sodium alginate to teach kids molecular gastronomy.

    All I know is that kids need more exposure to science…I showed a class of first graders how to make glowing alginate ‘worms’ using this:
    and they were totally fascinated.

    @teufelsdroch, MUST HAVE KIT NOW. That is awesome.

    1. ‘No-hit’ pinatas??? *Boggle*

      We have pinatas several times per year, and my 8-year-old son always has to go last because he knocks that crap out of the park, so to speak. :)

      In related news, New York state recently decided to characterize freeze tag, Wiffle Ball, kickball and dodgeball as potentially hazardous, thereby subjecting camp providers overseeing those games to state regulation.

  12. If I still had the chem n electronics kits I had as a kid (suitable for ages 8 and above…) I’d get arrested for possession of bomb making equipment…
    (which it was…:)

  13. I DEFY you to show me a successful chemist who never burned off their eyebrows or accidentally blew something up.

  14. I found a vintage 60s chemistry set at a thrift store awhile back. It was in excellent condition and my first thought was I could sell it. I found out it would be impossible to ship it anywhere if I included any of the chemical containers without all sorts of permits and the like.
    I’m not a chemistry expert but my dad is a chemist so I showed it to him. He sort of lit up when he saw it. We went through the chemicals and there were several that he told me could only be obtained by permit and were not available to the general public. I feel like I’ve got some sort of contraband now! I love it!
    It is sad that kids don’t have access to danger anymore. My son still talks about the time we sealed a piece of dry ice with some water into a plastic soda bottle. It was heard throughout the entire neighborhood. Mentos and Coke only goes so far.

  15. Rather than having a chemistry set I bought the army field manual Improvised Munitions when I was in 6th or 7th grade. My parents actually let me make a few of the explosives described in the book and I didn’t kill myself or lose any limbs. I went on to get a PhD in chemistry. I definitely think that chemistry sets should come with lots of chemicals, some of them dangerous, but in my case I found a way to do more dangerous chemistry with things around the house.

    1. You can still get dry ice. Youtube is filled with videos of teenagers setting off dry ice bottles and planters full of thermite in their backyard.

  16. What I think is the problem:

    When I was nine, I also had a chemistry set with a spirit burner. I burned my thumb and squealed for my mom, as nine year old boys are prone to do in cases of danger. She was right behind me anyhow.

    Things my mom did:
    Hold my hand under cold water
    Put some ointment on it
    Lecture me about fire safety
    Comfort me

    Things my mom did not do:
    Freak out over a little injury
    Sue the people who made the set

    Conclusion: It’s not that manufacturers don’t trust kids with chemicals any more, its just that nobody wants to deal with their parents. We live in an over-afraid society, where every little cut is a life-threatening injury and every chemistry set is either a meth lab or an IED factory.
    My ultimate fear is that stuff like this will make us all wind up like the society in Demolition Man. *shudder*

  17. Eh, pretty much anyone reading this thread would still let the 9-year-old use the alcohol lamp, and the people who wouldn’t weren’t going to go out and buy a chemistry set for their kids anyway, even if they were available.

    When I was 9 I was building model rockets and R/C airplanes. I met guys in college who didn’t know which direction to turn a screwdriver. This is not some sign of the times, we were the same age.


    I think an activity like this would be epic for kids. Hell I want to do it for me. You can preserve the dna strands in alcohol and keep it in a little vial on a necklace or something, kids love that shit lol.

  19. chem sets had gotten pretty boring by the early 80’s. Mine was…i combined everything in the whole kit and only got ruined test tubes–filled with some white and purple precipitate i could never clean out. Wouldn’t even burn. Much better luck with model rocket engines and simple gunpowder. I think half of my hobbies as a 6th grader would get a 6th grader arrested today.

  20. You know what my favorite memory of playing with a chemistry set is? Mixing everything, literally every compound that came with the set, in a test tube and holding it over the flame. I think it was about ten seconds later that it exploded…. That’s why when my kids get a chemistry set all dad’s going to tell them is “wear goggles!”. =p

  21. My nine-year-old has many chem kids, as does her 7-year-old brother. And we’ve been doing if for years, so I guess that makes us leet. Or, you know, whatever.


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