For better or worse,” writes Theo Gray, “the fire, smoke, smells, and bangs of chemistry are what inspired many scientists to become scientists in the first place.” Mad Science exults not just the spirit of amateur scientists, but their substantial achievements. But mostly, the citizen scientist is someone who gets to have fun.
Starting with experimental cuisine, the first course is making salt – with a warning that this experiment is the most dangerous in the book, and should only be tried by an experienced chemist. The health and safety warning at the beginning of this book is realistic, and more serious than the ones found in most modern books.
“This book does not tell you enough to do all of the experiments safely,” and that’s deliberate – some experiments are not spelt out in enough detail for you to do because you shouldn’t be doing them until you’ve built up the right experience and knowledge.
For the rest, the real dangers are highlighted, but there are plenty of experiments that you can try with children – and some that kids can do on their own.
Simple tricks are a fun way to amuse your friends – metal spoons that melt in hot water, ice cubes that sink, and rocket fuel from snack food. Along the way the science will get absorbed far more readily than in school chemistry lessons. Gray’s choice phrasing – “construct a light bulb the modern way with some helium and an old welder” – will keep you diving into each new project.
Learning how to make everything from matches to nylon is an inspiring thing for your children to experience. It’ll also make you feel less like you’d revert to a Neanderthal without all of your solid state technology around you. Of course, not all of the materials and equipment will be easy to come by – best hang on to that internet connection for a while.
Regardless of any atavistic urges – and the fire chapter will also appeal to those – the fun comes with plenty of potential for education, and you’ll be wishing that they could still do this sort of experiment in school. Inspiration for the well-insured hackspace perhaps? At the very least, a hugely enjoyable coffee table book of vicarious geekery.
Theo Gray £12.95 graysci.com
So many great experiments – a cornucopia of fun, imbued with a love of science. Inspirational.