I turn into a kid every time I go into his store.
My favorite is the "spitfire kit": "Each kit will allow users to kindle a ...fire... by using two chemicals and a drop of spit."
I had multiple chemistry sets and am not dead and have all my fingers. In fact I was always, with the aid of reference books, mixing various things together purchased from every day shops, purchasing piles of fireworks and doing things frowned upon.
At my secondary school in the early 1990's we were allowed to help ourselves to stuff in the chemical larder as long as we told them what it was for and did the lab safety test first. It was stuffed full of small chunks of Uranium, sodium (under oil) and all sorts of nasty shit that could easily kill you without much notice.
Inevitably we passed that as too dangerous and proceeded to stock up on fumic nitric acid, formaldehyde and ammonia. This was done with supervision.
About two hours later, in a fume cupboard, we had 50g of RDX (C4 precursor) which was considerably more dangerous than the above. We carried this in a metal flask on a public bus to local GSK labs where they did NMR spectroscopy on it. People were interested and quite helpful there. Then we took it to the school field and blew 10g of it up with a magnesium taper. The rest was disposed of by the lab techns (probably by doing the same because they were slightly nuts).
We extracted Aspirin from willow, made RDX, various plastics, thermite, did glasswork, extracted our own DNA, made fireworks and countless other things I can't remember now that were cool.
Now we would be branded terrorists.
Chemistry was awesome and no one was hurt. My understanding for the universe from a physics and chemistry perspective is pretty good due to this.
I would buy this chemistry set in a second.
When I was a kid, as a part of my education I learned how to use a band saw, did chemistry experiments and learned how to weld with MIG and solder with an oxy-acetylene flame, even do some radioactive experiments. Yes, there was adult supervision but only one adult per 15-20 kids.
This was less than 15 years ago, and during that time we've seen a huge shift in the mentality. One lost thumb was deemed acceptable if the rest of the kids learned how to use the band saw. These days kids live their sheltered lives and are not exposed to dangerous situation they have to learn to deal with.
Technology is getting more, not less, complicated and learning to deal with the basics - like chemistry, electricity and radioactivity - at an early age will become more important, not less.
The world out there is dangerous in many ways, learning to manage risks and deal responsibly with dangerous materials and tools is an invaluable skill.
PS. I, too, would like to have this chemistry set but unfortunately they can't ship it outside the US.
Also, it's expensive as hell now due to the ozone-depleting regulations. Last I saw it was over $100/L.
The rest of the chemicals look pretty innocuous . The KMnO4 has some hazards associated with it, but the risk isn't that high.
The thing about chemistry, is people who aren't chemists think its all about randomly mixing solutions, so the more chemicals the better.
The actual metric for doing interesting reactions is the number of tools, measurement devices, and apparatus you have. The actual chemicals are almost secondary.
I really enjoyed my undergrad quant class. So a "kit" that would entertain me would involve a ridiculously precision balance / scale, and a spectrophotometer, and a chemistry desiccant / dehydrator vessel thingy and several burettes and graduated cylinders. And the usual array of glassware. Vacuum sep funnel, distillation set, that kind of thing. Oh and I got a huge kick out of electrochemical machinery, I mean at least a precision pH meter but more advanced stuff would be cool. I'm not asking for an NMR or a FTIR spectrometer but who knows what a devoted makerspace could pull off.
Given that kind of gear listed above, I could find chemicals laying around a perfectly normal kitchen or basement to entertain me.
Number and type of chemical is a bad metric. Its like saying the best CPU to program on is the one with the largest instruction set, so a IBM360 is precisely exactly 9.1244 times "better" than a PDP-8. Well it just doesn't work that way. On the other hand a metric of tools and apparatus actually is a pretty good metric.
Its like giving a kid who wants to be a chef an easy bake oven and some prepak mixes. It technically involves cooking, so ...
Or giving a kid who wants to learn about computers an ipod. It does have a CPU inside, doesn't it?
I basically listed what I remember of my lab drawer contents from undergrad quant class. I could see having a lot of fun with less stuff.
Another aspect of hacking / startup / makerspace type activities is making a moderately crude instrument. For example a spectrophotometer with bad but usable specs could probably be made as an arduino shield using a light tight box, an incandescent bulb, a log converter feeding the A/D of the arduino, and a glass prism sitting on a servo controlled by the arduino. And some software.
Or instead of burrets, a digital model using a syringe (no needle needed) and a screw and nut hooked up to a stepper motor driven by arduino. So given a syringe of 1M vinegar or whatever you can squirt out any precision volume.
A PH meter shield for an arduino sounds too simple and obvious to even mention. There are more elaborate potentiometer systems where you measure the voltage required to shove a certain current thru a solution and so forth, stuff I don't remember as well.
As far as budget goes, I don't think you can do "real" chemistry without at least a decent scale and some kind of volumetric measurement tool (a grad cylinder if nothing else? A set of volumetric flasks?)
If you insist on "chemistry without numbers" you may as well just mix different colors of kool aide powder for all you'll learn.
I was given something very similar to this as a kid: http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-MX-907-200-Electronic-Project/d... (in fact, I think it was that, 20 years ago!)
It didn't teach me anything about electronics, I was too young to really grasp what I was doing. It taught me that with sufficient knowledge you can make something out of individually useless bits of electronics.
You're right to be more demanding of your undergrad quant class but this might be just the thing to get your 8 year old niece/nephew interested in science.
I'm just thinking of the first time I saw a piece of sodium dropped in water. So I can imagine that just because its a waste at the professional and real world level doesn't mean it's necessarily a waste at the toy level.
But as for this specific chemical I have no idea if this is true about it or not.
You probably mean sodium for the first, or vinegar for the second. Although neither are harmful the way carbon tet is.
As far as letting noobs play with dangerous stuff for training (or maybe Darwinian selection?) thinking back to my undergrad years the worst stuff we messed with for training purposes was various ionization states of chromium, lead, and mercury. We did at least have multiple marked hazmat buckets, didn't just flush down the drain. That was a long time ago and that kind of stuff might not be acceptable labwork in 2013.
If you ever get to work with aqueous chromium some of the ionization states are beautiful. Incredibly toxic, sure, but you can see why people wanted to use them in paints.
The big risks come when you huff it, which people used to do because it gives you a high. It just also happens to melt your liver.
But if your standard for danger is "unsafe when huffed", then most things in this set are pretty nasty. It's all a matter of perspective.
Growing up in the '80s as a chemistry nutcase, I did quite a few experiments with CCl4. My liver is still alive and kicking. :)
The first suburbanite kid that may choose any of these fun adventures including: building a bomb, burns down the house with thermite or just turns their parents backyard into a superfund site will have their lawyers put John throughly out of business with legal costs and damages that no one will ever offer this kind of product again.  And that is before the CSPC decides which wheel of punishment to spin today.
And, I don't see a fume hood; or solid and liquid waste disposal instructions.
The next point is I don't hear about any design patents, so Joe's Evil Scientist Chemistry Set could be produced. Even if someone doesn't personally believe in patents, they still exist and are very much enforced.
If John gets thousands of orders how, when and where take on all the growing pains, not just cutting out panels. Unless John is an industrial process engineering genius, Asian manufacturers could do this for 1/10 of cost and in 1/5 the time.
Conclusion: All the best. Good luck, John.
And if you understand what he's trying to do here, you'd understand that for other people to duplicate his effort would be seen as success.
If the point isn't to strike it rich, but rather to spread knowledge; John might consider that a quite satisfactory result.
The liability concern is greater. He can personally talk to those who walk into his store about safety; less so those who order this over the internet. No one is going to be building a bomb however; all of these samples are in quantities of 30 ml or less. That's less than the 3 liquid ounces you're allowed to bring on a plane, and that limit was set because you can't actually build anything all that destructive with only a few ounces of material.
I'm not sure how you are determining that there are no solid or liquid disposal instructions; did he post the contents of everything that will be included?
Who cares about patents here? He's shipping a chemistry set that is identical to one from 1936, plus a couple more that he thinks are useful. How are you going to patent that? It's just a collection of chemicals, and an instruction manual. The patents on producing all of these materials have long since expired. There's nothing patentable here.
And sure, other manufacturers could do this for a fraction of what he's doing. As you point out, there is some liability concern; liability concerns are greater for a larger manufacturer than for him, doing this as part of his hobby business, merely because they are a bigger target. Asian manufacturers would probably have a hell of a time getting this past customs. And again, who cares? If someone else produces an awesome chemistry set, great! The whole point is to teach about chemistry, and get kids engaged by allowing them to experiment and explore rather than swaddling them and protecting them. The point is not to get rich. Despite what you may think reading about lots of startups on Hacker News, some people just desire to do a good job, not to build a scalable business that makes them filthy rich.
So, the two main concerns I see are liability, and his ability to scale if the Kickstarter is wildly more popular than he anticipated. Even if CNC machining the case cuts down on a lot of the labor, assembly and finishing will take time. However, I don't see this as being particularly more risky than the average Kickstarter; in this case, he's already been making these for a while for sale in person, so it's far past the prototype stage that many products do a Kickstarter at.
Parents should be responsible for teaching their children how to work with dangerous things that we encounter every day in a safe way. The chemistry set should be used to teach science. I don't see the issue, but I guess I'm not surprised in our litigation happy society.
Is that not the case?
However, if you think about it then as long as you provide the proper MSDS data-sheets and get the right waivers signed, providing a one-stop-shop chemistry set for educators/parents makes perfect sense.
On one hand, I try myself to avoid car battery acid as much as possible. It's legitimately nasty stuff, housed in a device where common use can lead to explosive venting of the battery's contents.
On the other hand, knowing enough about the acid to develop a healthy respect for it is vital to just about everyone in the US. Almost no one I know does jump starts correctly, and a starter battery explosion can permanently blind people.
Everyone ought to learn how to deal with things that are everywhere that can kill or permanently disable someone. Lead-acid batteries are everywhere, including children's toys. Knowing how to deal with them is vital knowledge in this society.
When disconnecting, break the connections in reverse order.
Lead-acid batteries release hydrogen during discharge (and may vent it if the discharge is rapid), or from overcharging (water can electrolyze). So the live battery is likely releasing some, and the dead battery might be if it's actually damaged and not charging properly.
So making the final, sparking connection (or first disconnection) is safest using the negative/ground wire (no potential), on the dead vehicle (avoiding the definitely-discharging live battery), and some distance away from the dead battery (mostly aviding the possibly-outgassing dead battery). This minimizes your chance of the spark igniting a cloud of hydrogen gas and getting a fireball.
And now that you know why the order is what it is, you'll probably be able to remember it :-)
The key is to attach the last negative clamp not to the car's negative battery post, but to a grounded metal object away from the battery. This prevents sparking near the battery that can ignite hydrogen around the battery and cause it to burst.
Ooh, that's fun:
"The ability to surpass the oxidizing ability of oxygen leads to extreme corrosivity against oxide-containing materials often thought as incombustible. Chlorine trifluoride and gases like it have been reported to ignite sand, asbestos, and other highly fire-retardant materials."
"Exposure of larger amounts of chlorine trifluoride, as a liquid or as a gas, ignites tissue. The hydrolysis reaction with water is violent and exposure results in a thermal burn. The products of hydrolysis are mainly hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid, usually released as steam or vapor due to the highly exothermic nature of the reaction."
HF scares the willies out of me, and this stuff burns you and then turns into HF. Lovely!
"Handling concerns, however, prevented its use. John D. Clark summarized the difficulties:"
"It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that's the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water — with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals — steel, copper, aluminum, etc. — because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminum keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes."
The FOOF entry is always amusing.
Any bio&|chem know what's likely to do singe eyebrows or suffocate?
Setting fire to that will produce crap loads of smoke very quickly. I filled my entire garden up with smoke with one of them a couple of years ago.
Sure there are more in that list but that strikes me as the most obvious.
It also has sodium hydroxide, which is nastier (imo) than sulfuric acid.
I don't see borax. I'm in the UK, and I think there's some cancer concern about it.
(Heck, even human bodies do nightmarish things to other human bodies.)
I have a strong reaction to sodium hydroxide because I've seen the results of burns with it.
It is the case, and is the reason this set is put together.
Here's a BBC article on the subject: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19050342
So yes it's a risk and it can be used to make illegal/dangerous substances, but none of it is illegal, just risky.
Just major companies don't want to take on the kind of risk that comes with it. Whereas boutique shops have a lot more freedom because they're selling to self selecting audiences, which (generally) understand they're taking on additional risks with the increased benefits.
They may take advantage of having the same freedoms that larger companies just don't exercise, but the idea that their audience is "self-selecting" likely won't hold up or protect them from the kind of litigation that means this is (in practice) a bad idea (from a business survival standpoint).
I see the set as a good thing, but I don't think saying they're protected in any way or that the concerns of larger companies don't apply is accurate.
I need to do some more research to make sure I'm not supporting some sort of kook, but I like what I've read about him (and from him) so far. If he checks out at face value I'll participate in his Kickstarter at a higher-than-strictly-necessary level, just to support what he's doing.
I don't see why the chemicals are such a big deal. Should be an opportunity to teach responsibility.
Excuse me? Glassware?
That's Texas style freedom for you!
…baffled and saddened.
When your laws target objects rather than actions, you can't avoid this kind of stupidity.
EDIT: Found a PDF as well:
It feels strange to be reading something like that in 2013.
Anyways, I really really hope that anyone buying this for a kid is also prepared to spend time with the kid.
That said I'm getting this for me.
But there is a certain amount of danger that they'd better avoid. And, the best way to avoid danger is by learning the safety procedures. That kit could be used to make the world much safer (and more interesting) for them, but one can't just give the kit to kids, and letting them loose.
This is not exactly as dangerous as a loaded gun. More like a kitchen knife, which is dangerous but parents should be teaching their older children how to use safely.
Yep, here is the list.
(A) a condenser
(B) a distilling apparatus
(C) a vacuum drier
(D) a three-neck or distilling flask
(E) a tableting machine
(F) an encapsulating machine
(G) a filter, Buchner, or separatory funnel
(H) an Erlenmeyer, two-neck, or single-neck flask
(I) a round-bottom, Florence, thermometer, or filtering flask
(J) a Soxhlet extractor
(K) a transformer
(L) a flask heater
(M) a heating mantel or
(N) an adaptor tube
It sucks telling your kid she can't have a chemistry set because of this nonsense.
So the difference between making a bunch of bottles of stuff and selling a whole box with various things as shown in the pictures.
I had to wait till I got into computer science (at 18, pentium 75 era), to re-experience such a wonderful feeling.
I agree with csmuk wholeheartedly that it is the supervision that counts. A chemistry kit can be a great learning tool, but it is not something that should be taken as a toy to play around.
We all play, make mistakes, and learn due to those mistakes. But with chemistry those mistakes could show in the form of a hospital visit, chemical pollution, or long term poisoning. I had the fortune to survive an explosion in a lab unscathed, and I will not forget the day I saw my collegue burn 2 meters from me.
Proper training in chemistry is important for reasons of safety and for scientific understanding and reasoning. But let us face it, most people do not like chemistry at all in school. But blowing stuff up and making drugs a la Breaking Bad is cool. When I read the words RDX, CCl4, conc. H2SO4, Methylamine - a bit of TiCl4 perhaps - etc in this thread I imagine the kid with sparks in his eyes who wants to blow stuff up on new years eve.
So, how can one include proper attitude towards the materials inside this Chemistry Set without proper supervision?
I recall thinking how fun it would be to have that set, as well as how risky it could be. I probably should've bought it.
Can't wait to see one of these recreated next:
This sentence really rubs me the wrong way. It says to me that they really do not think about the possible consequences of distributing these to unsupervised kids. It's the "I just gave him the gun/alcohol, what he did after that is not my problem" point of view.
I'm not saying that all kids shouldn't have access to fully-loaded chemistry sets, but chemicals should be distributed with forethought, and this guy is clearly not thinking about what harm the chemicals can do. (He's thinking about how to design a nice case.)