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The Death of the chemistry set


Check out Endangered Species - the chemistry set

Read the comments, they are interesting!

Are such chemistry kits available in India? I don't think so. I used to play with chemicals a lot - with material sourced from the medical store and from a chemicals dealer nearby who was unwilling to believe that my requirements were for purely scientific and peaceful purposes. I don't remember how I made my father accompany me to the `Vidyarthymithram' store near the municipal stand to purchase concentrated H2SO4 and HCL - but he did come with me, and the dealer reluctantly gave me the stuff. My first experiment was to find out whether sulphuric acid can *really* burn you - it was a great success - the scar from the experiment remains to this day! Experiments to create fire and boil liquids were extremely satisfying - concentrated acids, bits of cotton, potassium permanganate, small aluminium pieces etc were the usual ingredients.

The most exciting thing about Pre-Degree (plus-two) was that for the first time, I had access to a good chemistry lab. Small amounts of chemicals were smuggled on lab-days from the college lab to my `home lab' so that I could concentrate on my `research' better! I was (and still am) a big fan of Sherlock Holmes; the fact that Holmes too was a great chemist provided further motivation.

Children learn a lot during play - in fact, we can safely say that they learn only when they play. The western world has utilized this knowledge very creatively - the modern Lego robots and the Basic Stamp controllers and the old chemistry and `erector' sets all came out of this understanding that great scientists and engineers are NOT built by stupid B.Tech/BSc/Msc/PhD courses but by instilling the spirit of experimentation and discovery in students at a very young age through the medium of play.

It would be interesting to hear some of my reader's experiments in science during their school days ...

Update: Check out this link! Instituitions like Jodo Gyan are truly doing great work.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 3rd, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
Hi sir..
One ma greatest experiment-> Making an electromagnet(6th or 7th std). Juz took an iron nail, coiled a wire aound it n put one end in P n other in N of the supply in the extension box.
result- smoke n fire in the room.. Whole of the extension wire n box in flame.. melting plastic adding to the smoke.. Mom came running, screaming like hell...

In +2 practicals, after the experiments(certain costly chemicals r supplied by teacher strictly for the expts), we used to mix all kinds of chemicals in the vicinity in a boiling tube.. ( dont forget chalk powder, bleaching powder, some old tablets...).. resulting in all kinds of colours, unexpected outputs....

Nov. 4th, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)
I too remember doing such an `electromagnet' experiment - fortunately, a blown fuse prevented other mishaps ...
Nov. 5th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
I remember that =))
Haha .. Your own "electromagnet" experiment is still very clear in my mind :-). You were in first year of engineering in our Ernakulam house (and I was in 8th standard) and I guess I had something on electromagnets in my text book and you offered to demonstrate how it works. I still remember you puling out some 30cms of copper wire with sticky/damaged rubber insulation and winding it on the thick iron trunk of a usual "wall hole driller" and plugging the ends of the wire into the mains - and ka boom!!! Hahaha .. That was so good. Those days I was so mad about mugging up history and geography in the useless school textbooks that I remember having generally paid no attention to your efforts to imbibe a scientific temper in me, I sometimes wish I had paid more attention to you then :-) and mugged up less of history and geography!!

Interestingly a similar incident happened in my first few days in Cisco. My mentor took me to the lab saying that "let me show you how a router boots up " and pointed me to the huge (1/3rd of a normal refridgerator) Cisco 7500 router and plugged it into the socket - ka boom and some smoke. I thought thats indeed how a router boots up (joking ;-), only lator my mentor discovered that the router was just shipped from US and there was a toggle switch to change it from 120V to 220V =)))

Nov. 6th, 2007 08:15 am (UTC)
Re: I remember that =))
It seems many people have performed this "experiment" in their search for an `electromagnet' and discovered first hand the practical implications of Ohms law with varying degrees of smoke and fire!
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:54 am (UTC)
Entirely off-topic
This comment has nothing at all to do with your post, though you did mention "stupid PhD courses". I am posting this here since

i) If I guessed correctly, you have direct access to a bunch of undergraduate students who are more likely, than the average undergraduate student, to consider going off the beaten track, and

ii) This blog seems to be a watering hole for more such folks who are already someway on the beaten track, but might be waiting for a nudge to go off it!

With that out of the way, here is the plug :

It is time to start applying for the Ph.D programme in Theoretical Computer Science for the term beginning 2008 August at The Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), Chennai.

You are eligible if you are

i) A talented B.Sc/B.E/B.Tech graduate, OR an M.Sc/M.E/M.Tech/MCA, and

ii) Interested in the mathematical aspects of Computer Science.

1. AFAIK, the exact branch/discipline of your degree does not matter -- it is point (ii) that counts.
2. You should apply even if you are in the final year of your qualifying degree, and expect to complete it around August 2008.
3. If you are not yet in the final year, you should think about joining the visiting students programme.

For admission to this programme, you should apply for the Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST) 2008. The application can be done online as well as offline. See the above link and the JEST 2008 Brochure for details.

(And no, this is not a PhD course of the kind alluded to in the original post!)

-- Philip
Nov. 4th, 2007 09:11 am (UTC)
Re: Entirely off-topic
Thanks a lot for the information - I shall definitely try to `nudge' a few students in that direction :-)
Nov. 4th, 2007 09:31 am (UTC)
Hmm .. wasn't that curious a student!

We brothers made this Netwon's colour disc to realize the phenomenon of `persistence of vision'. We broke something to get a motor (I think); and I don't remember seeing a pure white colour when the disc was rotated, as the basic colours weren't themselves pure. Thats the best I remember doing something at home!

And yes, I tried to immerse myself in a `kutti' (small) tub, to see if Archimedis' principle is in fact true :).

But the one I loved the most is a `melting man show' we organized for a science exhibition. The idea is two have a boy sitting on a chair, and a skeleton on another chair; both in different chambers. The setup (with multiple mirrors) was such that the viewers actually see the chair reflected by a mirror. Adjusting the lights of two chambers, the boy appears to `melt down' to a skeleton. The funniest part is, when I suggested that I would like to be the boy who sits on the chair, our teacher told, its better that I take the role of the skeleton so that we don't have to search for another! I was so skinny then!!

Nov. 4th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
I always was a bit allergic to chemistry,
though never missed to try something new(read outrageous) .

My obsession were with the physics sets available, making magnetic trains, turning bulbs on and off etc...

Nov. 5th, 2007 05:17 am (UTC)
My experiments
The first experiment that I tried was making a water heater. I got the two graphite rodes from the battery and then connected the phase and neutral to the graphite rodes and dipped into the small plastic box(Aravana payasam box :)) and I made sure that the rodes don't touch each other). It worked... And the first person to congratulate me was my grand father. But let me tell you one thing that I even did small experiments with the stainless steel blade,where I connected both the neutral and phase together to the blade!!! That happened in 7th standard vacation. And in 8th standard I completed my small dream... Which ever material other than iron I met across I used to pass current through it and test it to know if its a conductor or not.

The second experiment was still amazing. My physics teacher taught me how to generate small voltage with a magnet and a coil. I went home, opened the radio took the round magnet off. I wanted to know what will happen if I connect the magnet to the phase and neutral. Amazing I found the magnet split into pieces!!! After that I wasn't allowed to do any experiments at home!!!! :( Nor I was encouraged....
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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