... as a result of the incessant drive to make learning too darn safe.
Not that this is a terribly new development (I wrote about this sort of thing here and here), but it appears that anxieties about terrorists and meth-labs are sucking all the chemically goodness out of chemistry sets:
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).
Of course, our world is made of chemicals, which makes keeping chemicals out of the hands of a curious and determined youngster well-nigh impossible. As I noted earlier:
I wonder, though, if the clamp-down on chemistry sets might backfire. Many of the kids who might be experimenting with chemistry sets have heard of the internets. Even if they can't buy a complete kit of oxidizing agents and acids and such at their Wal-Mart, they may be able to get all sorts of information -- from myriad sources online -- detailing not only wondrous experiments, but also alternate sources for chemicals (like the kitchen or garden shed or medicine cabinet). Kids are resourceful, and it's hard to think of an instance in which putting something off limits didn't make it more attractive to the younger set. Natural curiosity plus teen rebellion probably means a whole generation of budding chemists will not be lost to accounting programs or dangeral studies.
(Of course, there's a lot of unfiltered information on the internets. Will we be able to recognize the kids who are critical consumers of information by their full complements of fingers and eyes and their relative lack of visible chemical burns?)
And, through the power of the internets, I located something that would totally feed my need for chemical excitement were I a youngster disappointed by a too-safe chemisty set: a dozen glow-sticks and a Blendtec blender. Awesome, and so much more dangerous (and frothy) than a rave.
(Yes, this video is filed in the "Don't try this at home" section of Will It Blend? -- the precise section from which a youngster would draw experimental inspiration. At least Tom Dickson wears safety glasses.)
Teens want to live a life of danger. Chemistry sets are not the enemy.
Today's sets cover perfume mixing and creation of luminol (the 'CSI effect' I suppose).
Isn't luminol kind of toxic?
Even the 'safe' science sets scare parents. My parents bought a gift for a 7 year old last christmas - experiments that could be done with kitchen stuff like oil, salt, soap etc. His parents refused to help because they 'didn't understand' how to follow the instructions. Poor kid. I spent a very happy few hours avoiding the rest of the family, in the kitchen with the kid, working through the experiments.
The parents were scared of oil, salt and soap. So perhaps it is lack of demand for more interesting chemistry sets that is resulting in their withdrawal from the market.
Will it blend is awesome, thanks for the link. I'd never seen that site before.
This is not that new. I remember getting a chemistry set for my birthday about 20 years ago and being profoundly disappointed with the fact that there was nothing really interesting I could do with it. Maybe that's why I've always been so useless in chem lab.
I am old enough to have had a chemistry set with lots of dangerous stuff in it. I remember being awed in a cool way by the several bottles that had a skull and crossbones on the label and stated, "Harmful or fatal if swallowed."
I had very mixed reactions to a nationally-known museum putting
its imprimatur on what claims to be a chemistry set, the entire
purpose of which (by the description) seemed to be How To Be Safe
Around Chemicals. The principal chemistry of these sets seems to
be social, i.e. a toxic combination of litigiousness and innumerate
fear of any exploration beyond flipping TV channels.
Of course, our world is made of chemicals...
Except that -- it's not anymore. Chemicals (in the chemistry set use of the word) used to be part of daily life, something you could buy at the pharmacy, the hardware store or the feed store. When I was a kid (roughly the same time as you, I'm guessing) I'd get these books at the library with projects that required glycerol or potassium permanganate and wonder where the hell you would buy something like that.
Complaining about the decline in chemistry sets is like complaining about the disappearance of capacitors from Radio Shack -- that's just not what "technology" is nowadays.
My two cents - when I was growing up I had a wonderful chemistry set with all sorts of interesting chemicals and experiments, such as potassium permanganate (I always thought that reddish-purplish color when dissolved in water was very interesting). My best childhood friend and I had a great time with that chemistry set - in fact, he became a chemical engineer.
BTW, you can still get capacitors at Radio Shack...