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The Chemical-Free Chemistry Kit 296

Posted by Soulskill
from the think-of-the-increasingly-stupid-children dept.
eldavojohn writes "It's known that home chemistry sets are in danger of going extinct, which has spurred set makers to add the label 'Chemical Free!' on modern chemistry sets (NSFW warning — JAYFK stands for Journal of Are You *expletive* Kidding). The kit for ages 10+ provides 60 chemistry activities that are mind-bogglingly chemical free. The pedantic blog entry points out the many questions that arise when the set promises 'fun activities' like growing plants and crystals — sans chemicals! That would be quite the feat to accomplish without the evilest of chemicals: dihydrogen monoxide. While this rebuttal is done in jest, this set's intentions do highlight the chilling growth of a new mentality: Chemicals are bad. Despite their omnipresence from the beginning of time, they are no longer safe. Even real researchers are starting to notice the possible voluntary stunting of science education that is occurring in the name of overreaching safety."
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The Chemical-Free Chemistry Kit

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday April 29, 2011 @02:31PM (#35977610)

    Laugh all you want, but that stuff is a powerful solvent that's highly reactive. It can promote corrosion in metals and bacterial growth, is used in making many deadly compounds, and even becomes explosive when mixed with common chemicals like sodium. I hear they're even spraying it on houses and cars now to strip away dirt and grease. It's THAT powerful a solvent. All that and yet our kids are exposed to the stuff every single day, and no one seems to care. These our OUR KIDS we're talking about, for christ's sake!

    Sure, the EPA and numerous state agencies *say* they're monitoring the stuff, but do we REALLY know?

    • Indeed, it's the universal solvent [wikipedia.org]. Pretty dangerous stuff.

      Think of the Children!
      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        Indeed, it's the universal solvent [wikipedia.org]. Pretty dangerous stuff.

        Wow. That is wrong. So wrong, I tempted to think it is a joke. Water is not a universal solvent.

        No, I will not edit the page.

        • There is no such thing as a solvent that can dissolve anything. That isn't what is meant by the term. Water dissolves more substances than any other liquid. That is all that is meant by the term Universal Solvent. Any intro to Chemistry course should mention this.

          Thank you for not editing the page, btw.
          • by mcmonkey (96054)

            There is no such thing as a solvent that can dissolve anything. That isn't what is meant by the term. Water dissolves more substances than any other liquid. That is all that is meant by the term Universal Solvent. Any intro to Chemistry course should mention this.

            Really? When I hear "universal solvent" I think DMSO [wikipedia.org], which dissolves polar and nonpolar compounds. There are just so many everyday materials which do not dissolve in water.

            Whatever. Not the first time I've been wrong.

          • by nschubach (922175)

            Thank you for not editing the page, btw.

            Someone else did.

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          I think they might have confused water (aqua) with royal water (aqua regia [wikipedia.org]).

    • I Still Like the taste. Its best a little chilled.
      • by idontgno (624372)

        Not so much chilled, but instead blended with select compounds of ethanol and malt-barley-based cogeners.

        This [wikipedia.org] is one of my preferred reagents.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      Here's [fishersci.com] an example of Dihydrogen Monoxide's MSDS, courtesy of Fischer Scientific.

      I find the thing to distressingly underestimate the hazards. "No special equipment required. No special handling indicated. No hazard expected."

      There are hints of the truth in there, like an explicit LD50 given, so obviously toxicity is a problem.

      I'd say that overall, regulatory agencies are falling down on this job.

      • Of course it's toxic. It's a CNS inhibitor. Lowers the ionic concentrations that nerves depend on to work.

        So, you better tell that kid drinking at the water fountain that he's gulping down neurotoxin. ;)

      • by bmo (77928)

        >like an explicit LD50 given

        Water toxicity is an actual threat. People have died because they thought water is completely harmless when ingested in huge amounts, that you'll simply pee away the excess. You do pee away excess water, but the kidneys act only just so fast - 1 litre per hour for healthy kidneys.

        http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16614865/ns/us_news-life/ [msn.com]

        --
        BMO

    • all you need is a lead acid battery, some urine and some old vegetable oil.

      Half empty first, dehydrate second.
      mix,
      do something (carefully... ohh stings)
      collect red fuming
      buffer with other half
      render third
      skim
      mix with buffer
      warm
      titrare
      add cellulose base product to help with stability.
      set up Nobel prize fund.

    • by goltzc (1284524)
      Did you know that it is also the main ingredient in acid rain!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drooling-dog (189103)

      Alright, I can't take it anymore. Even in the absence of a "common" name, I doubt that any chemist would refer to H20 as "dihydrogen monoxide", any more than aluminum oxide (Al2O3) would be "dialuminum trioxide". It's redundant, people. We call H2O2 "hydrogen peroxide" -- not dihydrogen dioxide -- and "hydrogen oxide" is all you need to distinguish H2O from that. If we're being pedantic, that is.

      • by wjousts (1529427)
        Thank you. As a chemist, I often have to fight the urge to punch somebody in the face when they say "dihydrogen monoxide" or similar nonsense names for water. Don't use your own ignorance to try and illustrate somebody else's.
        • by Cillian (1003268) on Friday April 29, 2011 @03:26PM (#35978368) Homepage
          That's not really the point. The point is that you can either make stuff up or be very misleading and lots of people will loudly go along with it (I believe a bunch of people went out and got a lot of signatures on a petition to ban DHMO). I'm sure if you made up something entirely nonexistent or found some other very obscure but pretty safe chemical you could get the same effect, but the fact that it's water makes it all the more amusing (And makes the fact that it's not actually evil more readily apparent to the informed reader).
          "Oh well, I lost my moderations but I felt like saying this anyway. And don't blame me if some 'c's are missing, my key is a bit broken." -Cill
          • by StikyPad (445176)

            It might not be the point, but it's still only slightly less asinine than referring to processor speed in gigabytes, confusing downloads with uploads, or any of the other inane mistakes that make most of us shake our heads and die a little inside.

            • by snowgirl (978879)

              It might not be the point, but it's still only slightly less asinine than referring to processor speed in gigabytes, confusing downloads with uploads, or any of the other inane mistakes that make most of us shake our heads and die a little inside.

              But it did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs!

        • Right. Besides, everyone knows that it's proper name is Hydro-oxidic acid. Sheesh.

          Lighten up, Francis.

      • by bziman (223162)
        To be even more pedantic, it's Hydrogen Hydroxide, since the way it bonds is actually H-OH. This seems to make particularly sense when viewed from an acid-base reaction perspective where you neutralize an H-something acid with a something-Hydroxide base, you get a something-something salt in a Hydrogen Hydroxide solution.
        • by nwf (25607)

          Indeed, I agree. That's what I was taught in chemistry class. Hydrogen Hydroxide all the way.

      • by snowgirl (978879)

        If we're being pedantic, that is.

        Oh we are... and of all things, chemicals weren't around since the beginning of time either. It took a non-zero amount of time for the energy in the universe to expand and cool enough for molecules to form. (I believe it's non-zero amount of time for even atoms to form.)

      • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:23PM (#35979008)

        It depends upon the nature of the bonding in the compound. For ionic compounds (such as your aluminium oxide example) numerical prefixes aren't used, as the charge of the two ions determines the ratio of them.

        Covalent bonds don't work the same way. For instance you could have either Carbon Monoxide (CO) or Carbon Dioxide (CO2), so the information of how many oxygen atoms present is required to correctly identify the compound. In these cases, because carbon comes first, we don't need to specify monocarbon- as that is assumed by convention. In the case of dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) the di- prefix is used for the first word.

        Water does of course present a little more of an interesting challenge, as it can be seen as many types of compounds. It can be seen as an ionic compound (where you'd call it hydrogen hydroxide), or as an acid (which would be hydroxilic acid), or as a covalently bonded compound. Oxygen dihydride may be the /more/ correct way to refer to it as a covalently bonded compound, but as the convention is to write the formula as H2O rather than OH2, I'd stand behind dihydrogen monoxide as the correct name.

        Yes, IAAC.

      • by scribblej (195445)

        Also, this joke was already old and stupid 20 years ago when I was in high school.

      • Little Susie was a girl
        but now she is no more
        for what she thought was dihydrogen monoxide
        was dihydrogen sulfuric tetroxide.
      • Even those who originated the name dihydrogen hydroxide know it's wrong. It was picked out for the 'monoxide' part, and it's simularity to scareygas carbon monoxide. It just sounds more worrying then hydroxide.
    • That 100% of people who ever died on the earth were at some point in contact with this substance.

      This should be more than enough proof.

    • You think Dihydrogen Monoxide is bad? Hydrogen Hydroxide has all these dangers and more, and is JUST as common as Dihydrogen Monoxide!
  • Will someone please define the word "chemical" for us?

    • Noun: Chemical: A substance with a distinct molecular composition that is produced by or used in a chemical process.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Well that was useful. The dictionary might as well say: "Chemical: everything"

        • by blueg3 (192743) on Friday April 29, 2011 @03:52PM (#35978630)

          Hardly. Concrete, for example, isn't a chemical. (The individual constituents may be. Ultimately, the constituents of concrete are all composed of chemicals, but that could be a ways down.) A bridge isn't a chemical. Humans, potatoes, bacon, hope, money -- none of those are chemicals.

          "Everything" is perhaps a more inclusive word than you were going for.

    • by treeves (963993)

      For the purposes of people who are afraid, maybe "anything that you could find a MSDS for". That leaves out vinegar, but includes acetic acid, for example.

      • by bmo (77928)

        Water has a MSDS.

        http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/w0600.htm [jtbaker.com]

        MSDSes are fun.

        Learn something. Learn what to do when you get superglue in your eye:

        http://www.rockler.com/tech/RTD20000394AA.pdf [rockler.com]

        In other words "nothing, put a patch over it and it will come off the eyeball on its own in a few days."

        --
        BMO

        • by treeves (963993)

          True, but it's waste of time, as it says N/A for everything, basically.
            It's for people who'd think, "Gosh I have this bottle of DI water with a J.T.Baker label on it I paid a bunch of money for. Hey, they make chemicals! I'd better have an MSDS!"

          • by wjousts (1529427)
            Not really a waste of time, the MSDS has more than just safety data, it also has physical data (e.g. boiling point, melting point). Of course, if you don't know the boiling point of water, you should probably step away from the chemistry bench. So really, it's only next to useless.
      • by cusco (717999)
        You mean like this? "https://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/00199.htm"
    • Will someone please define the word "chemical" for us?

      Everything.

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        Will someone please define the word "chemical" for us?

        Everything.

        "Everything" depends on what side of the courtroom you're standing on, since we have a lawyer to thank for the "Everything" answer anyway.

    • Will someone please define the word "chemical" for us?

      My college chemistry professor defined a "chemical" as everything .

      Literally.

      The dictionary definition I remember seeing was ridiculously all-encompassing like "made of molecules".

  • by OECD (639690)
    It's really an end-around the ridiculously litigious society we live in. The kit isn't quite chemical free. It doesn't ship with any, but the experiments utilize common household chemicals.
    • by bmo (77928)

      >It doesn't ship with any, but the experiments utilize common household chemicals.

      So does the Anarchists' Cookbook.

      BRB, I'm going to market the Anarchists' Cookbook as a "chemistry set" and make millions selling it to kids.

      Completely legal, but this would troll so many people. To troll Nancy Grace with this shit would be hilarious.

      --
      BMO

      • To troll Nancy Grace with this shit would be hilarious.

        I thought Nancy Grace was a troll. You don't mean she is serious do you!!?!?!???

    • It should be banned anyhow.
      It it is every revealed that chemicals exists in homes the government will have to be called in to clean them out.

      Just because they are useful doesn't mean they are safe.

  • "in the name of overreaching safety" You mean overreaching litigation? Right?
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      "in the name of overreaching safety"
      You mean overreaching litigation? Right?

      Both, really. Not just a demand for personal safety leading to litigation when anything goes wrong, but also the idea that anyone who's indulging their curiosity about chemistry must be either making drugs or bombs that threaten homeland security.

      And, needless to say, if you want more people to invent new stuff in your society then making curiosity a crime is a bad idea.

  • Safety? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Friday April 29, 2011 @02:42PM (#35977800) Homepage Journal

    I don't think they're particularly worried about safety. What they are worried about is the perception that science kits can be used for making poisons and explosives. Today's political climate does not distinguish between having uncommon knowledge and having the intent to use it to do harm.

    • I don't think they're particularly worried about safety. What they are worried about is the perception that science kits can be used for making poisons and explosives. Today's political climate does not distinguish between having uncommon knowledge and having the intent to use it to do harm.

      Today's political climate? This garbage being spewed out of your fingers... i don't know where to begin. Poisons and explosives? Who cares? Yeah, i'm worried about someone using a chemistry kit to make a poison when they can just use bleach or hundreds of poisonous substances which are widely available at almost every store out there.
      This squarely falls into the category of too much hyperbole and no danger involved.

    • Re:Safety? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DCFusor (1763438) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:05PM (#35978796) Homepage
      Further, I do have a decent chemistry set, and it was once seen through a window by a police person. Due to the magic of profiling, I soon had a full dynamic entry from the DEA to add to my list of interesting experiences. That alone makes a real chemistry set dangerous as hell -- those guys were within a twitch of shooting us! They looked and acted a lot more like the meth heads they thought they were there to "Take down" than any real meth head I've actually met. Maybe they were hoping for a free fix. Dunno, but that was scary, expensive, and uncalled for.

      What was really fun is that what I was using it for at the time *was* making explosives, legally, for a patent I was working on for microexplosive welding of flat cables in flip top things (like laptops and cel phones). They were fine with that once they sent the BATF out to check. And weirdly enough, it was the BATF who were nice and polite, no drawn guns, we had a fun talk and all. Maybe, unlike the FBI/DEA/DHS, they bothered to actually look up my dossier and find out I was an ex-spook with a long record of exemplary government service -- for the "good guys", so they treated me with respect instead of disdain.

      No one not caught red-handed in the act of a violent crime should EVER be treated like the DEA treated us. No one.
  • This is me, wishing I still had mod points..... That being said, following the links back to the mfr's website here [elenco.com] seems to indicate that it's a kitchen chemistry kit. So, it's a Mr. Wizard book with come cheap "glassware" and safety equipment. Saves the company the problem of properly packaging and labeling the reagents, they can leave the warning labels to other manufacturers. Still, a bit of a cop out.
  • In looking at the picture, it's possible that the kit really doesn't come with chemicals (except maybe for some litmus strips or something like that).

    The experiments sound like something you'd do with household chemicals like water, salt, soap, baking soda, etc.

    So it's fair to bash the kit on the lack of interesting chemical experiments, but not fair to bash it only for the "Chemical free" label.

    Though to be honest, even my old-school chemistry set with real chemicals with hundreds of "experiments" wasn't a

  • by ewg (158266) on Friday April 29, 2011 @02:53PM (#35977962)

    "Chemical" has become a synonym for "toxin" in modern vernacular. Regrettably.

    • by Rotten (8785)

      When insecticides and agrochemicals in general got labeled as BIOCIDES, it was the first warning signal that our society was dumbing down at extreme pace.

      When the sole mention of uranium or arsenic (in natural state) started to sound alarms for some guys who started to "look for the culprit for that dangerous chemicals to be present in the water...must be the mining industry!!!" [of a remote hydrothermal area and the water in question was surging just meters of a volcanic system]...that day i lost all my ho

    • by tsa (15680)

      Exactly. I often have a hard time getting people to realize that the citric acid found in citrus fruits is the same chemical they make in factories. Most people think the molecules made in the factory are poisonous because they are 'chemical' while the ones from the fruit are 'biological.' I then point out that many 'bio' substances are extremely poisones. That often makes them see the light.

  • Once upon a time, I mixed equal parts (by weight) hydronium hydroxide and dihydrogen monoxide. Poured the resulting product into a paper cup and drank it.
  • Wow ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday April 29, 2011 @03:06PM (#35978108) Homepage

    So, in 10 or 15 years, when everyone has grown up being kept away from anything remotely dangerous, not allowed outside, and being pandered to to be sure we don't hurt their feelings as we try to teach them to spell ... why do I foresee an entire generation of children who are too stupid and sheltered to do anything, and too spoiled and coddled to understand why they're not magically having the world care for them and give them everything they want?

    I mean, OK, sure ... when we were kids, you could get cut, or break something, or maybe even really poke someone's eye out. Surprisingly few people actually did, though. Only the really psychotic kids, or the ones who really did need the helmet and the short bus were ever actually kept away from this kind of thing.

    We already know that kids don't really understand basic science well enough to go into university and not be completely wrong about how things work. Chemical free chemistry sets? Wow ... let's wait for the generation that is raised entirely with safety scissors, glitter, and nothing but comforting reassurance that it's OK to spell words any way you please, and who cares what 2+2 is?

    "Doomed as a species" comes to mind. At the very least ... the places that aren't intentionally educating their children to be simpletons will have an advantage.

    How much of this is fear of litigation, and how much is fear of children becoming terrorists as they learn how to make pipe bombs?

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday April 29, 2011 @03:31PM (#35978404) Journal

      Seriously, do you think is new? Did you hunt? Help a cow deliver a calf? Helping build the house? Make bread? Fix your own car and fully understand it, not clip in a new chip? Build your own radio?

      I will tell you something very simple. My mother knew vi (no, not vim) better then I. To me it is the editor of choice in the shell, for her it was the latest tech. Used it NOT to edit some config files but to do office work in. Mail.

      You are the pandered child to the generation before you.

      And yet, it still works out.

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

        -Robert A. Heinlein

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        1) Did you hunt?
        A) Yes. Found it boring. Know how to do it though if pressed. (Found making and laying snares more profitable.) Also know how to identify wild edible plants, and how to process them. Found the latter more enjoyable than hunting anyway. Plants are awesome. Also understand the importance of avoiding over harvesting.

        2) Help a cow deliver a calf?
        A) Having been raised in an agricultural environment, and having been exposed to animal husbandry-- YES. Yes I have, and yes, yes I do know how to pull

    • As a society, be have become to over protective of kids, (Wont' someone think of the children.) that when they finally get out on their own they will simply not be equipped to survive. I expect we are only a few years away from a massive increase in the number of deaths due to stupidity.
      I am so glad I do not have kids.
    • by dgatwood (11270)

      So, in 10 or 15 years, when everyone has grown up being kept away from anything remotely dangerous, not allowed outside, and being pandered to to be sure we don't hurt their feelings as we try to teach them to spell ... why do I foresee an entire generation of children who are too stupid and sheltered to do anything, and too spoiled and coddled to understand why they're not magically having the world care for them and give them everything they want?

      And eventually, the Morlocks will rise up and eat those Elo

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      Worse yet how do you teach kids how not to accidentally make bombs without teaching them how to make bombs? In other words if you tell a youngster not to store propane tanks that leak a bit in a room that is not highly ventilated you've just also taught them how to make one heck of a bomb.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tailhook (98486)

      So, 10 or 15 years ago, when everyone began being raised isolated from anything remotely dangerous, not allowed outside, and were pandered to to be sure they didn't have their feelings hurt when we tried to teach them to spell ... we foresaw an entire generation of children that would be too stupid to do anything, and so spoiled and coddled to that they would expect the world to care for them and give them everything they want.

      Some knew then we would end up with kids that would never really understand basic

  • If you buy a "chemistry set" "without chemicals" to your kid you are:

    1 - A Moron. EVERYTHING is a chemical.
    2 - A darn overprotecting parent.
    3 - Someone without the slightest idea of how the world works

    Really, enough with the BS

    They're ruining the childhood of kids!

  • It just contains all natural arrangements of protons, electrons and neutrons. Not a nasty chemical in sight.

    Oops. Wait. Those are subatomic and nuclear particles. Nuclear is an even worse word. Can't have that.

  • But that box? It's made of......chemicals!!!! Argghhhghghgh!!!!
  • Did anyone else notice the silly looking 1975 looking swimming goggles that this kit comes with? I guess they'll keep you from getting a soap bubble in your eye or something, but why bother. Or the Pink plastic test tube rack?

  • Unless you've played with potassium permanganate and glycerin in your parent's basement you haven't experienced the joys of (non-narcotic) chemistry based juvenile delinquency.

  • Coming soon, to a street corner near you!
  • It is quite a problem to fist identify a trend towards idiocy and then figure out how to change society into something healthier.
    Right now parents worry about their kids having any kind of future as excessive population and technology continuously devalue human labor. The pressure will accelerate as technology displaces more and more fields of endeavor. In some ways basic values will be assaulted and the danger of socia

  • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Friday April 29, 2011 @03:43PM (#35978560)
    "Remember when a dangerous toy was one that could poke out more than one eye at a time?"
  • My father is a professional photographer. He studied in a time when photography started in the brain, not in the camera, and you had to develop the film and images yourself. When I was five or so, he gave me a bunch of lab-grade equipment to use as I please: beakers, Petri dishes, test tubes, a rack for them, cleaning equipment, graduated cylinders, glass pipettes (the kind they use in a real lab, with precise markings), the works.

    It wasn't before long that the carpet in my bedroom had several stains and outright holes around the part where I played with the stuff. I mixed up all sorts of crazy stuff: glue from vegetable oil, some green acid that ate right through the carpet, and some sort of caustic foam from god knows what components comes to mind. My parents didn't mind it that much, because was learning. My father didn't even bat an eye when I took a mouthful of that green acid because I couldn't see it creep up in the pipette, he just told me that I should do that facing the light so I can see it. The caustic foam got all over my hand, yet my parents weren't suing anyone.

    I was barely ten when I helped him develop film in the lab. If anyone did that before, they know that the stuff used is not kid-friendly, and can kill you in a heartbeat. Why didn't I die? Because I didn't fuck around with them. I did what my father told me to do, and didn't do what he told me not to do. I also had the common sense to approach stuff cautiously. I don't try stuff that looks dangerous just to see what happens.

    There's probably a lesson in here for what appears to be the majority of American parents: kids need their freedom. Why not let him endanger himself a bit, just enough to teach him that it's not good. The more sheltered a child is, the less likely to be able to cope in the outside world. If the kid is allowed to explore and learn on its own, it'll become that much stronger and adaptable. Thus, removing 'dangerous chemicals' from a chem set is not the answer, nor is absurd supervision. The answer is to teach him properly.

  • My wife bought a Chem set for my then 3 (now 4) year old son several weeks ago. After doing the relatively simple experiments he went around saying he wanted to do chemistry when he grew up for almost 2 weeks. Monday they did a second set of exeriments (creaitng a hydorscopic crystal from the results of the 1st experiment) and he got JUST as excited.

    And now that he gets to see the 'mushy' crystals after they have absorbsed water in the air is is almost giddy.

    There are still ways to teach our kids. Really we

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." -- Albert Einstein

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