Here's The Important Reason We Don't Get Mad Chemistry Kits For Christmas Any More
Those things were deadly.
MIKE MCRAE 24 DEC 2017
For the first half of the 20th century, the humble chemistry kit was a hit with science-savvy children across the western hemisphere.
Unfortunately science isn't always child's play, and finding the line between safe entertainment and a trip to the emergency department hasn't always been a clear one, especially where chemistry is concerned.
Today you can still find a few well-meaning lab sets, but they don't contain anything much stronger than packets of bicarb and a few simple salts.
Meanwhile, here are five things kids could once do with their science toys.
1) Make gold disappear into water, and risk cyanide poisoning
2) Bend glass into pretty shapes, and risk third degree burns
3) Measure the radioactivity of an ore, and risk cancer
4) Catch a criminal by dusting for prints, and again risk cancer
5) Pretend to be a chemist with little funding, and supply your own damn chemicals
In 1968, the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare estimated that toys ‰?? not including outdoor and sports equipment ‰?? caused as many as 700,000 injuries a year.
The US Toy Safety Act of 1969 saw an end to many toxic materials, such as lead, as well as other risky elements that could shock, burn, or irradiate children.
A shift in public trust towards governments, businesses, and other authorities, including science, has since seen the public treat chemistry with increasing amounts of fear.
Finding the balance
So, are we really more risk averse today? Deakin University lecturer in science education George Aranda thinks we've become more aware of the potential dangers in educational resources.
"At the same time, there are many more resources available to children to understand chemical reactions," he told ScienceAlert.
"Students can learn via constructing models of chemicals, both digitally and physically; online videos offer experiences not possible years ago and educators are more aware of everyday learning of physics, chemistry and the environment via ideas like 'food science' and apps that allow you to track birds in your local area."
Digital tools might not be the same as getting our hands dirty, but if dirty hands means a few kids suffer ill effects, it might be worthwhile.
Nonetheless, we also have better ways to get kids in touch with professionals who know how to manage potential dangers.
"If you have students who are quite independent and want to go beyond the curriculum, it would be a good idea to get help from external professionals rather than let students tinker on their own, potentially unsupervised," says Aranda.
"I would check with local groups and even with universities for help."
For some safe science gifts, Aranda and his colleague Wendy Jobling have given some great advice in this article in The Conversation.
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