About Chemical Innovation - Subscription Information
August 2001
Vol. 31, No. 8, p 48.
Touring the Net

Table of Contents

Mike Block

Find a set on the Net

My interest in chemistry was sparked by the innumerable hours I spent puttering around with my A. C. Gilbert chemistry set. Of course, I learned the most when I didn’t follow the directions, but made my own combinations of materials. Alas, there are no more Gilbert sets, but a quick Web search on “chemistry sets” turned up several current products. Here’s a sampling, in case you’re interested in some early holiday shopping for children with a scientific bent.

The first hit was Fantasy Toyland.com (1), which sells the Go Chem set. The blurb said, “35+ fun activities with home science and kitchen chemistry. Investigate with safe and simple materials—discover basic scientific laws and phenomena.” Simple and direct, unlike others to follow. (Ages 8+; $19.95)

The next stop, Home School Products (2), offers numerous sets. The site led off with the Smithsonian MicroChem XM4000, whose sales pitch proclaimed, “Over 500 exciting chemistry experiments and procedures developed by top scientists! This is environmentally the safest chemistry science kit ever made. There’s no glassware, no alcohol burners, and no flames. . . . For added safety, the strength of the chemicals have [sic] been reduced to a fraction of professional chemistry sets.” Comment: Please, tell me what a “professional” chemistry set is. And the Smithsonian Institution endorses this? (Ages 10+; $29.95)

If the XM4000 isn’t enough for you, try the MicroChem XM5000. “Now its [sic] safe for kids to learn chemistry thanks to the MicroChem method of using micro amounts of chemicals.” And so on. (Ages 10+; $53.95)

Next, Slimey Chemistry: “It’s colloidal and polymeric chemistry at its best! The Slimey Chemistry Set allows you to make several kinds of each and learn subtle uses for pseudo putty, slime, various foams, and laundry starch. Honored as ‘Outstanding’ by Parenting Magazine.” Interesting. The text calls the product “Slimey Chemistry” throughout, but the box says “Slime Chemistry”. Now that’s subtle. (Ages 8+; $29.95)

And for the more adventurous: Crash & Burn Chemistry. “A journey into basic chemical versus physical reactions. Experiments in this science kit take you through thermal chemistry, glow-in-the-dark chemistry, precipitation, and coagulation. It’s the veritable stimulation of all five senses.” This should keep ’em out of the pool halls. (K–6th grade; $29.95)

ScienceKits.com Inc. (3) carries the MicroChem XM5000 but also features the Chemlab line. Among the attributes of the Chemlab 1100 are

  • “Challenging intermediate chemistry set featuring 1100 science experiments and procedures.” (Hence the name.)
  • “Contains 11 chemicals for exploring popular science subjects, including super-absorbent polymers, food testing, conductivity, electroanalysis, and more.”
  • “Break down common compounds into component colors creating a work of scientific art.”
  • “Make ChemSlime and other unusual polymers while learning about these important compounds.”

And lots more. (Ages 9+ with adult supervision; $37.95)

Its partner, the Chemlab 500, contains 500 experiments and procedures that you can do with seven chemicals. You can

  • “Study the basics of electrolysis, breaking compounds into their components, change colors as if by magic with chemical reactions.”
  • “Create gases and test their properties.”

And, of course, make ChemSlime. (Ages 9+ with adult supervision; $23.95)

The search next took me to venerable Edmund Scientific (4). A quick site tour turned up nary a chemistry set, but with an “advanced search” for the string “chem”, a multitude of products emerged. They ranged in price from $2.50 for litmus paper (which looked more like what we used to call “pH paper”) to a $265.95 “Advanced Labware Science Fair Kit—61 Pieces”. The description: “Contains most of kit cr30814-72 plus book Chemistry: The Easy Way and more.”

I’m all for an easy way to do chemistry, but I’m disturbed by the appellation “Science Fair Kit”. Aren’t students supposed to do original projects for science fairs? A chemistry set should help a student learn chemistry, not just get through a school assignment.

Just for fun: On the Edmund site, I turned up a “Small Set of Happy & Unhappy Balls—3/4 in. Diameter”. Price: $4.95. Blurb: “Two seemingly identical black spheres, with marked differences in their physical properties. . . . when dropped to the floor, one jumps wildly, the other is motionless. Marvelous thought provoker for discrepant events science.” This should help students prepare for the discrepant events of grad school.


  1. www.fantasytoyland.com/gochem.html
  2. www.homeschoolproducts.com/hsp/chemistry_sets.htm
  3. www.sciencekits.com/chemlab.html
  4. www.edsci.com

Mike Block is the editor of Chemical Innovation.

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