As a kid I loved my chemistry set. Many an afternoon was whiled away in my dad’s shed, totally ignoring the set’s instructions and randomly mixing the contents of the various bottles. To be honest I can’t really remember learning much chemistry, beyond the fact that it was possible to generate some pretty noxious fumes.
I guess its that sort of behaviour that rang the death knell for those sets of old. Today’s high street chemistry offerings seem to have been sanitised to the point of tedium, whilst some even proclaim to be chemical-free (shudder).
But there is hope. MEL science have launched a product that brings the chemistry set smack into the 21st Century. And I was pretty excited to get my hands on one.
MEL chemistry is supplied via a subscription model. The starter pack is £29.95, and includes some glassware, safety specs, a solid fuel burner, a google-cardboard VR clone, a tray, a neat macro lens that clips onto a smartphone and other bits and bobs. On the face of things this looks a little steep, but you should also take into account a really very good IOS/Android app, which shows various 3D representations (when used with the VR goggles) of all the reagents you are likely to encounter later.
All the experiments are sold separately, at £9.95 per experiment set, with 3 delivered each month. The idea being that you each month you receive a new kit. This seems really very reasonable to me, and is just the sort of model that maintains the excitement. Fresh chemistry coming through the door each month should keep up the interest.
Each experiment was accompanied by a very good instruction card and a detailed online page. The webpage goes into far more depth that you would expect for the target 12+ age group. But its all clear and well written. A very minor criticism is the commentary to the videos, sometimes the heavy (Russian?) accent makes things a little difficult to follow.
We (a small Lorch and I), cracked open the ‘Tin set’ and fired up the accompanying video. Everything is very well packaged with a lot of thought going into how kids should dispense solutions safely. My lab assistant, for this experiment, has quite a reputation for knocking fluids flying, but in this case, and despite a couple of up ended bottles, nothing was spilt.
So over to the real action. The ‘Tin set’ contains two experiments. First, the tin hedgehog, which simply involves dropping a zinc pellet into a solution of tin (II) chloride. Tin crystals quickly form on the pellet, these are quite small and would be difficult to see without the help of the clip-on macro lens. So with the expanding crystals captured live on my phone’s screen my co-experimenter was quite impressed.
Then we moved on to the tin dendrites. Again the method was easy for my pre-teen helper to follow. And this time, as the beautiful branches of tin struck out across the petri dish there was some genuine amazement in the room.
So far so very impressed. By linking all the experiments with excellent online and smart resources they should really engage the budding chemist and ensure they learn a heck of a lot more than just how to gas themselves. In short they are fun, safe and bang up to date.
I’ve got previews of another 4 experiments to try and will let you know what I think. If they are up to the same standard I’ll be signing up for the other 34.
EDIT: Note, a previous version stated that the sets cost £9.95 per month. This should have read £9.95 per experiment set. The text has been altered to correct this.