Post Tagged with: "review"

Review: Chemistry Sets fit for the 21st Century.

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 starter pack and 5 experiment boxes.

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.


Tin set unboxed

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.


Tin hedgehog, as seen via the kit’s macro lens.


Tin dendrites


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.

By October 27, 2015 2 comments chemical education

The Wonderful Life of Elements

The Wonderful Life of Elements may just be the most beautiful chemistry book I’ve read in, well, ever.

For anyone with even a sniff of an interest in chemistry Bunpei Yorifuji has created a book of pure joy. And for those who have only ever held a chemistry text  by accident this book may just grab their attention long enough to show them what the rest of us see in the subject.

First up you are treated to a lovely introduction to chemistry and its relevance, including illustrations of the elemental composition of the Universe, the Sun, the Earth and your living room. But this is just the B-movie, because the main event is the wonderful personifications of the elements. 

Each of the 118 elements are beautifully drawn with features that relate to their characteristics: Gases are wispy and ghost like, the liquids’ legs are flowing away and solids are bipeds. Whilst the newly discovered elements are depicted as babies and those with a longer history are old and bearded.

Each element has a page or two of additional cartoons that describe it  uses and other characteristics. All of which make for a fascinating collection of drawings.

Then to cap it all off there’s a equally lovely poster of the periodic table.

The Wonderful Life of Elements is available from Amazon, but I’d urge you to pay a little more and get it directly from the publisher, No Starch , that way you get an electronic copy in your email box whilst you wait for the hardcopy to arrive.

By September 23, 2012 2 comments chemical education, general chemistry