Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A lament for the chemistry set

According to some research results which I obtained via the highly dubious route that someone mentioned them on Twitter - i.e. I have no idea whether this is true or not - over a recent period in some country or other (see, it's detailed research), 0 children were injured by chemistry sets while 600 were injured by Wendy houses.

You might be inclined to deduce that Wendy houses are much more dangerous than chemistry sets, but I think it's more likely that no one gets given chemistry sets any more. I can't remember when I last saw one in the shops. And that's sad.

Chemistry sets were wonderful. You could make interesting colours, smells - if you were lucky, minor explosions. And I suppose that's the problem. In our elf and safety conscious world, chemistry sets were watered down so much that in the end they just weren't worth having. I suspect they took out all the good bits and left you with little more than bicarbonate and vinegar.

Now even in my day, chemistry sets did not contain the materials to get up to the adventures I used to have in my evil basement chemistry lab. I was the master of producing nitrogen tri-iodide, the interesting black stuff that when dry explodes when you touch it. I revelled in the spontaneous combustion of potassium permanganate and glycerine (tip - it works best if you warm the glycerine up a bit). Yet even so, they were fun.

The conclusion? Should we be campaigning for there to be more accidents with chemistry sets? Quite probably. We might get more scientists that way.

You'll be pleased to know that some chemistry sets do still exist - the one above is here at


  1. Agreed! When I was teaching the subject 'Elf and Safety' meant you could do hardly anything and there were classes I think would have loved it. Someone pointed out to me at the time that if a pupil were slightly injured (e.g. finger burn) in a chemistry lesson the parents would be up in arms - but a broken leg in a game of rugby would hardly raise an eyebrow. Not sure that's true these days, but certainly was then.

  2. Hear! Hear! I loved my chemistry set...but even more, I loved my microscope. Don't tell me they don't make kids' first microscopes anymore, either :-(

  3. What have you lot got against elves?

  4. It's not all elves, Henry, just the jobsworth ones.