Don't assume that a publisher would properly vet a book. That is a job for an independent consultant hired by the publishing company.
On the Amazon page for the book, you can look inside to preview the introduction and some limited experiments. There is not a lot of information there to make a true evaluation of the safety, however, I do have some comments.
The experiments have safety icons next to the materials lists. I personally prefer safety statements in addition to these icons. Some precautions are mentioned in the "Protocol:" sections which appear to be the directions for the experiments.
The book appears to be aimed a youngsters 8 years and older. The experiments previewed all have parental help required icons.
The Bubble Snake experiment has the experimenter working with food colors, but there is no recommendation for gloves. In my experience with students and youngsters working with food colors, they almost always end up with colored hands.
The Unicorn Glue experiment recommends insulated gloves, but the photos show the experimenter working without any gloves.
The edible snot experiment has an incorrect method for making a sodium alginate solution. The author adds the sodium alginate to warm water and notes that it will "be clumpy and messy". Additional heating and stirring are needed to break up the clumps. This
can be frustrating for a young experimenter. The sodium alginate should be added to room temperature water and then heated with stirring until a clear suspension is obtained. That will minimize clumping. Heating can be done in a microwave oven. For heating
the 1-1/2 cups of water-sodium alginate mixture, heat for 30 second intervals with stirring between intervals until a clear suspension is obtained.
The edible snot experiment is a variation of molecular gastronomy where pulp-free fruit juice is mixed with sodium alginate (using a blender, so no heating is needed) and then being added to a calcium chloride solution to form beads or larger bubbles of
the juice. Fruit juice beads are edible, however, I would not be comfortable recommending eating a colored sodium alginate gel.
In the fake tattoos experiment, there is no information on the size of soft drink packets needed. Since a "packet" can vary with the brand of soft drink powder, it would be better to use a measured quantity in teaspoons or tablespoons. Youngsters are instructed
to heat 1/4 cup of water, per color to be used, in a sauce pan over medium heat until it is hot. One needs a very small saucepan for as little as 1/4 cup of water. The hot water is added to a cornstarch and soft drink mix. Corn starch tends to clump when
mixed with hot water. A better procedure is to mix the powders with room temperature water and then warm it, with stirring, until a smooth mixture is obtained. A microwave oven can be used to heat a mixture of 1/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of corn starch and 1
packet of soft drink mix using 15 second heating intervals with stirring between each interval.
The Secret Message experiment preview does not include any specific directions. It appears that the youngsters are making a saturated solution of sodium chloride using 2 tablespoons of the salt with 1 tablespoon of hot water. Since a saucepan and a hot
plate or stovetop is required, I am assuming that the water is heated by that method. One would need to heat a larger quantity of water than 1 tablespoon. My question is whether hot tap water would work for this experiment.
The elephant's toothpaste experiment calls for 3% hydrogen peroxide, but in the introductory note, Kate states that she uses 35% hydrogen peroxide "which can be quite difficult to find". That can be viewed as a challenge for a youngster to find a more
concentrated solution of hydrogen peroxide which is a safety hazard to an untrained individual. There is no safety precaution in the preview of the experiment stating that one should not use a solution of hydrogen peroxide more concentrated than 3%. (6% hydrogen
peroxide is used with some home hair coloring kits.) The experiment calls for heating 1/4 cup of water and then adding the yeast to the hot water. There should be little need to heat the water as hot tap water should work for this experiment. If the water
is warmer than about 110 F, the yeast will be killed. I don't know how that will affect the experiment. In this preview of the experiment, there are no safety notes about handling the elephant's toothpaste other that "Do not use this to brush your teeth!"
In my opinion, this book needs further examination.
David A. Katz
Chemist, Educator, Expert Demonstrator, Science Communicator, and Consultant
Programs and workshops for teachers, schools, museums, and the public
5003 Canby Dr. * Wilmington, DE 19808-1102 * USA
voice/fax: (302) 509-3282 * email:
Visit my web site:
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, October 3, 2020 3:38 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] C&EN: Thoughts on Kate the Chemist's "The Big Book of Experiments"?
> Has anyone looked at the book and, if so, do you have any safety concerns? I'd expect that the publisher would have vetted it, but I also know that Kate goes for big drama in television appearances.
Thanks for asking an important question. We have been struggling with this question on the Committee on Chemical Safety for a while. In the process, we have identified a variety of perspectives from which it can be addressed:
- Are we concerned about foreseeable safety concerns arising during the demonstrations as described in the book (this is likely to be the extent of the vetting by the publisher);
- Is the concern that children freelancing based on ideas in the book that have serious accidents (examples of these types of incidents are easy to find on Youtube);
- or is it with reinforcing the idea that chemistry is about creating uncontrolled releases of energy and matter as the author demonstrates in the video you referenced?
My concern with the last category is that the "exocharmic" nature of these demonstrations is that most of planning and safety precautions that allow these demonstrations to be performed without incident are hidden from the audience. The comments on Amazon about
the book suggest that this concern also arises for some of the people who bought this book (e.g. the comments that dry ice and other non-household chemicals are necessary for many of the demonstrations).
So I guess to answer your question, I expect to always find safety concerns with a collection of chemical procedures that suggest that they are for "all ages and interest levels". The recent ACS Chemical Health & Safety editorial "Let's Disagree about Safety"
describes the problems this approach to chemistry education can present.
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
For more information about the DCHAS-L e-mail list, contact the Divisional membership chair at membership**At_Symbol_Here**dchas.org
Follow us on Twitter **At_Symbol_Here**acsdchas