Oooh! Real ... Glassware?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An entrepreneur in Kansas City is raising funds to start selling what he calls "heirloom chemistry sets". I believe he refers at once to the craftsmanship of the chest, the actual glassware, and the chemicals. Our culture is rife with precautionary thinking and the government meddling that comes with it. These make it difficult to obtain "real" chemistry sets for children, so I am happy to see someone wants to do this, despite today's hostile cultural and legal climates:

To tell our story for this Kickstarter project, we really have to start in Christmas of 1959. Like many young scientists of the time, I received a Gilbert Chemistry set. This chemistry set provided me hours of great fun and learning as well as laying the foundation for my future as a research chemist. As I became an adult I wanted to share these types of experiences with my daughter, my nephews and nieces, and friends. But soon I became aware real chemistry sets were no longer available. Without real chemistry sets and opportunities for students to learn and explore, where would our future chemists come from? So .... I set out on a mission. Nine years ago, my wife and I acted on that mission and opened our science store, H.M.S. Beagle[.]
This reminds me of a remark I made recently in defense of the possibility of conducting experiments using the soon-to-be released hardware/software package, "Roboroach":
How are "amateurs" to become professionals (or at least come to realize they might want to become professionals)?
Returning to the kickstarter page:
Important notes about the equipment and chemicals offered in this project: The selection of chemicals in this set matches those originally offered by the A.C. Gilbert company from the 1920s through the 40s. We understand the hesitancy of some parents to allow their children to have access to certain chemicals and while every chemical we offer is safe when handled properly we will offer those who have pledged at those levels, where appropriate, to request substitutes for any given chemical or chemicals. We stand ready to make suggestions for proper substitutes which will allow the experimenter to make use of the supplied manuals, experiments and demonstrations. Each chemical has a QR code on its label that links directly to its particular Safety Data Sheet on our web site ( We are committed to safety and stand ready to provide advice when asked. [emphasis and link in original]
Just after the above quote, I also learned that, "some states do frown on its [sic] citizens owning chemical glassware."

Wow. Even I didn't realize things had gotten this bad, although it makes sense in retrospect. Thanks, "War on Drugs". (Or should I thank the "War" on terrorism for this one?)

We have, in the span of about a century, devolved from a society in which pre-teen boys were frequently trusted with guns and dangerous chemicals -- each of which were readily available -- to one in which adults often (usually?) have difficulty obtaining either. I wish this entrepreneur luck. He will need it.

May his sets, rather than being the last of the real chemistry sets, be among the first of their return.

-- CAV

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