1 August 2012 Last updated at 12:27
Whatever happened to kids’ chemistry sets?
By Alex Hudson BBC NewsContinue reading the main story
The first chemistry sets for children included dangerous substances like uranium dust and sodium cyanide, but all that has changed.
Talk to people of a certain age about chemistry sets and a nostalgic glaze comes over their eyes.
Stories of creating explosions in garden sheds and burning holes in tables are told and childhood is remembered as a mischievous adventure.
Portable chemistry sets were first used in the 18th Century but it took more than 100 years before they became popular with children, partly prompted by a desire to recreate the coloured puffs of smoke used by conjurors.
“It was part of a craze for what we call stage magic,” says Salim Al-Gailani, historian of science at the University of Cambridge.Continue reading the main story
Find out more
Dr Kat Amey asks what happened to the chemistry set, Wednesday 1 August, 2100 BST on Radio 4
The early chemistry sets for children played on the idea of impressing school friends with a magic performance.
By the 1920s and 30s children had access to substances which would raise eyebrows in today’s more safety-conscious times.
There were toxic ingredients in pesticides, as well as chemicals now used in bombs or considered likely to increase the risk of cancer. And most parents will not need to be told of the dangers of the sodium cyanide found in the interwar kits or the uranium dust present in the “nuclear” kits of the 1950s.
Most will know cyanide as a deadly poison, but one of its main applications is in gold mining. It can make gold dissolve into water.
Some chemistry sets of bygone ages even offered instructions and materials to be able to blow glass at high temperatures.
“You are letting a 12-year-old blow glass, there was uranium dust with a stereoscope where you could see the radiation waves,” says Rosie Cook, assistant curator at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
“By today’s standards, they’re terribly dangerous but they’re fascinating nonetheless.”
Many distinguished scientists talk of how much influence their childhood chemistry set had.
Prof Mario Molina was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for his work researching CFCs’ effect on the ozone layer.
“As a child I got fascinated with science,” says Molina, who now heads the Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment in Mexico.
“What really started making a difference was starting to do things on my own, away from school, with chemistry sets, toy microscopes.”
He then managed to turn a bathroom in his house into a chemical laboratory.
So what happened to the kits that were able to create the experiments that adults today so fondly remember? “Very often now, health and safety is used an excuse by schools, for example, not to do chemistry,” says chemist Prof Martyn Poliakoff, of the University of Nottingham.
“Not that it’s dangerous necessarily but it’s cheaper not to do the experiments.”
Chemistry sets started a sales decline in the 1970s, both Al-Gailani and Cook note. By the 1980s they had lost their mainstream appeal. But is it really a case of health and safety gone mad?
In the 1950s, booklets offered lists of instructions like “how to make an explosive mixture”. Now, even mildly explosive chemicals have been removed.
Used often to test the presence of starch, the iodine solution once seen in kits is now regulated as a list I chemical in the US because of its use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. It can also be lethal if more than 2g of pure iodine is consumed.
Today’s chemistry kits have a different emphasis. Some of the bigger sellers recently have included one capable of making edible creations tied to film franchises and a perfume kit aimed at girls.
These kits are not capable of the experiments of old.
“What used to be in chemistry sets that are not in there anymore are actual chemicals,” says Cook.
“Given the right instruction booklet, the older set would allow the user to create all sorts of experiments – blow things up, create smoke bombs, create stink bombs.”
Chemistry sets of old
Chemical Why was it included? Dangers
It was “unofficially encouraged by the government”, said chemistry set creator AC Gilbert, to help public understanding of atomic energy
Radiation exposure is today strictly controlled due to wide range of damaging health effects including risk of cancer
Combined with sulphur and charcoal to create gunpowder
Can be used to make a fertiliser bomb
Used as a dyeing agent
Toxic when eaten, as are many other lead compounds. Blamed for death of Pope Clement II in 1047
Used in coloured fountain experiment where solution turned from red to blue
The main component of some smelling salts, it can be dangerous if used in high doses regularly
Used in colour-changing experiment
Burns skin on contact
Hiding away and experimenting is the thing that adults seem to remember most fondly about their childhood experiments.
“The nostalgia seems to be around the expectation of what could happen. The ability to use chemicals in free play meant going off recipe,” says Cook.
“That has disappeared with the chemicals that have disappeared.”
There’s still excitement in some of today’s kits. Potassium and sodium can be dropped in water to produce a violent reaction.
But in some, the emphasis is on everything from drinking straws and cardboard to ping-pong balls. Not quite the explosive mixture described 60 years ago.
“Most of them are what you could refer to as kitchen chemistry,” says Cook. “Using things you can find in your kitchen – baking soda or vinegar.”
Convincing children and parents that science is safe is a priority for health and safety executive chairwoman Judith Hackitt.
She showed, in an experiment for school children, that under very particular circumstances a fire could be lit and held in the hands. For science to move away from practical experiments because they are seen as dangerous, she believes, is a mistake.Judith Hackitt with hands aflame
“Yes they are safe. Are there some hazards associated with them? Yes, but of a very minor nature. The whole idea of them is you learn from handling real materials,” she says.
The decline in the sale of kids’ chemistry set was mirrored by a shift away from science as a career. Parents instead pushed their children towards finance, the law and the like.
But sales of kits are increasing again. Internet retailer Discover This reported strong sales for chemistry sets and microscopes in 2011. It said that parents were looking for toys with an educational value. Television shows focused on cool science – like US forensic science shows NCIS and CSI – have also had an effect.
At the same time, university application service Ucas has reported a 40% increase in the number of acceptances to chemistry courses at UK universities from 2003 to 2010.
And, with a little advice and supervision, the chemists of the future can play in relative safety.
“Don’t lick it, don’t eat it, don’t sniff it, they are pretty good rules to live by in general,” says Cook.
Send us your memories of chemistry sets of old using the form below. A selection will be published later.
By Kristian Dando on 20th Jul 2012
Britain’s 18-34 year olds are a workaholic, social-media addicted generation which can’t switch off their gadgets, even when they’re on their hols.
Those are the findings of a bit of research we’ve done, anyway.
To illustrate our stats, we’ve put together this informative graphic, or ‘infographic’ as we’re told they’re called. Feast your eyes on this!
Like what you’ve read?
You can give impressive presentations from your iPad‚ and perhaps even leave your laptop behind‚ if you prepare well and know what to expect. It’s even easier to take to the podium with newer technologies like AirPlay mirroring and the latest version of Keynote for iOS. Here are tips for moving presentations onto your iPad and delivering them live.
Get it together
Apple’s $10 Keynote for iOS () can import presentations made in Microsoft PowerPoint () or in Keynote for OS X (), but in both cases you’re likely to lose a great deal during the import process. Say goodbye to some fonts, transitions, and builds that aren’t available on the iPad, plus audio and more. (Presenter notes are supported, however, whether created on the iPad or imported from a PowerPoint or Keynote for Mac presentation.) Therefore, when feasible, create your presentation directly on the iPad.
If you do use Keynote on a Mac, be sure to read Apple’s Best practices for creating a presentation on a Mac for use on an iPad, which guides you in selecting compatible templates, fonts, and other features. Once you’ve created your presentation, you need to move it to your iPad. Although the iOS version of Keynote supports iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud feature, which automatically syncs documents on all your iOS devices with Apple’s servers, the Mac version of Keynote still lacks integrated support for this feature. (OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion will have access to iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud.)
Instead, you must log in to your iCloud account in a Web browser at www.icloud.com, click the iWork icon, click Keynote, and then drag your Keynote document into the browser window. After it uploads, the document will appear automatically in Keynote on your iOS device—but keep in mind that this process doesn’t eliminate the compatibility issues I mentioned a moment ago.
If you don’t use iCloud, another way to move the presentation onto your iPad is to open iTunes, select your iPad, click on the Apps tab, and select Keynote. Drag your presentation to the Keynote Documents list. Then open Keynote on your iPad, go to the Document Manager (if it’s not already visible), tap the folder icon in the upper-right corner, and then tap your presentation. Or, if you want the convenience of cloud-based syncing without iCloud, a service called DropDAV ($5 per month) enables Keynote users to connect to Dropbox () via WebDAV.
One note: If you’ve already created a presentation in PowerPoint, also take a look at SlideShark, a free iPad app for viewing and displaying PowerPoint presentations. It’s not perfect, but it does a better job supporting PowerPoint documents than any other iPad app I’ve seen.
Use an external display
If your audience is very small—perhaps you’re showing your portfolio to a potential client or giving your boss a quick demo—you could show your presentation on the iPad itself, albeit without the presenter notes. But you’re more likely to prefer using a projector or other display.
Plug it in One way to do this is to plug a video adapter into your iPad’s Dock connector, and then connect that to your display. You’ll get the best results (and the highest resolution) using a display or projector with either the $39 Apple Digital AV Adapter (for displays with HDMI inputs) or the $29 Apple VGA Adapter (for displays with VGA inputs).
If you’re connecting to a television with neither HDMI nor VGA inputs, you can instead use the $39 Apple Component AV Cable or the $39 Apple Composite AV Cable, as appropriate, although both offer lower resolution than the Digital AV and VGA adapters. Although this wired approach works just fine, it’s difficult to hold your iPad while giving a presentation without the video cable falling out—I speak from personal experience.
Mirror a newer iPad With an iPad 2 or later, either the Digital AV or VGA adapter lets your iPad mirror everything from its internal screen onto the external display, which may be useful if you want your presentation to include demonstrations of other iPad apps or content that’s not within Keynote itself. However, note that on the original iPad, where mirroring is unavailable, Keynote itself produces no external video signal until you tap the Play button (which is probably what you want anyway).
If you prefer to roam across the stage holding your iPad while you speak, you can beam your presentation’s audio and video wirelessly using AirPlay mirroring—provided you have an iPad 2 or later running at least iOS 5. To pull off this trick, you’ll need an AirPlay receiver connected to the projector or display and on the same Wi-Fi network as your iPad. Apple’s $99 Apple TV () can serve this purpose, if you happen to have one handy. Alternatively, assuming a Mac or PC is available, you can install either of two similar utilities: AirServer (Mac version, $15; Windows version, $8) or Squirrels’ Reflection (Mac only, $15). Either of these apps can turn a computer into an AirPlay receiver, no Apple TV required. They even support displaying screens from multiple iOS devices at the same time. Note that the PC version of AirServer currently lacks audio support, but the developer says it’s “coming soon.”
Once your AirPlay receiver is set up, you can mirror your iPad’s display by double-pressing the Home button, swiping the multitasking bar toward the right, and tapping the AirPlay button. Tap the name of the device you want to use for mirroring and then set the Mirroring switch to On.
With an app like Reflections or AirServer running on your Mac, you can mirror your iPad’s display and audio wirelessly.
Control the presentation
Once you tap Play, you can use your iPad to control the presentation as well as provide presenter notes for yourself (a cheat sheet, if you will) that the audience won’t see. To change what’s on the iPad’s screen when using an external display, tap the Layouts icon and then one of the follow buttons: Current (the current build of the slide as shown on the external display), Next (the next build, which may or may not be the next slide), Current and Next (current and next builds side by side), or Current and Notes (current build and any accompanying presenter notes). This final layout is the only one to display presenter notes, but you can supplement it by tapping the button in the upper left corner to display a list of slide thumbnails, which can aid in navigation (tap a thumbnail to jump directly to that slide).
In Keynote’s Current and Notes layout, you can see presenter notes underneath your slides. The thumbnails on the left are optional.
To advance to the next build or slide, tap once anywhere, or swipe toward the left. To go back, swipe toward the right. A nice extra in Keynote for the iPad is a “laser pointer”: Touch and hold on the iPad’s screen to show a red dot, which moves with your finger on the main display. Lift your finger and the dot disappears. This is useful when you want to call attention to a particular area of a slide. To end the presentation (and turn off Keynote’s video output), tap the Close icon.
To highlight a particular word or image on a slide in Keynote, use the simulated laser pointer.
If your iPad is physically connected to your display—or if you want to be able to move around during your presentation without carrying the iPad with you—you can download Apple’s Keynote Remote app ($1) on your iPhone or iPod touch. Follow the instructions to pair Keynote Remote with your iPad using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and then your iPhone or iPod touch becomes a remote control for Keynote on your iPad, complete with previews of your slides.
Senior contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the ebook Take Control of Working with Your iPad.
[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about iCloud, AirPlay, and the third-generation iPad.]
We love flexible working. Work when you want, where you want, we say. But even we admit that it’s quite easy to get distracted. Whether it’s busy baristas, chattering coworkers or the Internet itself, there are, fortunately, tools to help improve your concentration and productivity, wherever you are.
- SoundCurtain (iOS only). SoundCurtain for the iPhone and iPod touch cleverly masks distracting noises with white noise and harmonic sounds, adjusting its volume, pitch and tone in response to the noise around you. You need a headset with a mic for it to work properly.
- White Noise Concentration (Android only). White noise – the sound your untuned TV used to make – absorbs ambient noise and helps you concentrate. This app for Android makes that sound. That is all.
- DeepFocus (Mac only). If you prefer your white noise in a desktop app, DeepFocus, available in the Mac App Store, combines white noise with “sonic auralscapes” and allows you to enter “varying productive states”. It is, also, a little bit frightening.
- Quiet (Mac only). Another Mac app, Quiet silences the noise on your desktop by setting your chat status to ‘busy’, blurring or hiding unrelated windows and shushing notifications – all at the push of a button.
- RescueTime. RescueTime claims to recover 3 hours and 54 minutes worth of productive time per week per person – and is used by companies such as Twitter, DropBox and eBay. It does this by allowing you to voluntarily block distracting parts of the Internet, track how you spend your time and nudge yourself when you succumb to procrastination. It’s available for individuals or managers.
- StayFocusd (Chrome extension). StayFocusd is an extension for Google Chrome that limits the amount of time you can spend on websites you find distracting. It can’t stop you firing up another browser though!
- Freedom. If blocking parts of the Internet for part of the day isn’t enough for you, you can block the entire Internet from your Mac or PC for up to eight hours at a time. Writers Nick Hornby and Nora Ephron swear by it, so does Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki. Could you cope?!
- OmmWriter D?na. Simple text processor D?na uses sights and sounds to help writers concentrate. A beautiful full-screen interface cycles colour and ambient sound to create an environment conducive to distraction-free writing. It’s available for the Mac, PC and iPad.
- Awareness (Mac only). Sometimes, when we’re distracted, we just need a break. Working for too long without one can be bad for your wellbeing as well as your work. At the same time, a ringing alarm to remind you to take a break can really interrupt your flow. Awareness for the Mac plays the gentle sound of a Tibetan singing bowl to mark every hour of continuous computer use, so you can decide for yourself when it’s time to stop.
- Notepad. Not really an app, as such, but if tech is getting in the way, and you really need to focus on an idea or strategy, go offline – and take a notepad with you. That’s what mobile working sales professional Ian Brodie recommends. And why not go outside and take advantage of the summer?
What are your favourite concentration and productivity apps? How do you stay focused when flexible working? What are your biggest distractions? Let us know in the comments.
Photo credit: Chevysmom
I didn’t know Dr. Covey. I met him once—several years ago at the wedding reception of a mutual acquaintance. I can’t remember if Dr. Covey was hosting the event at his home or if he was simply a neighbor, but I was introduced to him; and we probably shared a dozen or so words. However that wasn’t my first introduction.
I became acquainted with Steven Covey reading one of his early books, Spiritual Roots of Human Relations. Needless to say, a much younger version of the Steven Covey most people are familiar with. Since that time, like many, I’ve read one or two of his more recognized 7 Habits books. However, it was this first book that formed my opinions of him.
I must admit I hadn’t picked up that book in a while, until I pulled it off my bookshelf Tuesday morning upon hearing of his passing. Although it’s not a business book, his views regarding the root of what plagues business and politics still resonate with me:
“The roots of the problems we face in the world, in our national life, and in our family and personal lives are spiritual. The symptom manifestations (leaves) of these problems are social, economic, and political. But the roots are moral and spiritual. And they lie first within each individual and then within the family.”
Regardless of the business you are in or your particular faith or philosophical opinion, the spiritual nature of how we interact with people is relevant. What’s more, the implications of amoral leadership and interpersonal relationships plague the way we do business, the way our governments function and are regularly reported in the news (as too many CEOs and political leaders slink off into the corner in disgrace).
However, I have found Dr. Covey’s insight to be most relevant in how I interact with people one on one. In fact, there are two principles he espoused that have stayed with me. I wish I could remember which book or speech they came from, but I don’t think it matters—they are two things I learned from Dr. Covey that I try to remember as I have been tasked to lead people and projects.
- People are not resources like computers or office furniture: Over the years I’ve come to dislike referring to people as resources (although I have yet to come up with a more elegant alternative). I just don’t like the dispassionate nature of the term Human Resources. In business we manage process, but we lead people. Business school does a great job of teaching people how to manage, but if my experience over the last 30 or so years is any indication (and I don’t think I’m that unique), I’ve had damn few leaders. Business is personal. The way we interact with our colleagues, the way we interact with our superiors and subordinates is very personal—at least it should be. If we look at the metrics they drive as the only measure of whether or not someone is making a meaningful contribution to our organizations, we are only looking at part of the picture. Of course, performance metrics are important, but I’ve noticed that dogmatically focusing on the end result, rather than the root (as Dr. Covey might suggest), might not achieve that desired end result anyway. Business is personal and people are not resources—they are people.
- Techniques fall flat, a genuine interest in other’s success creates successful organizations: All you need to do is peruse the local bookstore or visit Amazon.com to learn the latest and greatest business management techniques. I spend a lot of time reading them myself—however, if they merely become techniques to manipulate (or manage) people, your colleagues will see right through you. Because business is personal, a genuine interest in the people you work with and a desire to help those you lead achieve success is what really drives business performance. What’s more honesty and integrity are not techniques—they should be the way we are, the way we do business and the way we interact with people. This type of atmosphere is created from the top. A “Do what I say and not what I do” approach to how you manage your business does not work. However, there is hope for those of us less inclined to interact genuinely with people. Jean Kerr said, “Man is the only animal that learns by being hypocritical. He pretends to be polite and then, eventually, he becomes polite.” I think this is true of developing a genuine interest in our relationships with colleagues as well (for those of you who feel you might be lacking).
“As with physical exercise,” writes Dr. Covey, “those of us who say we haven’t the time for ‘spiritual aerobics’ are excuse making and will find ourselves, whenever the situation calls for strength beyond our reserve, incapacitated by self doubt, envy, jealousy, pride, fear, anger, bad tempers, all indicating a lack of spiritual oxygen.
Rest in peace Steven Covey
Wendy Ellyatt, the group’s development director, who is also an author and consultant in early education, said the launch reflected growing concerns over the state of modern childhood.
It will campaign on a range of issues covering education, health, technology and commercial pressures that hamper children’s development, she suggested.
The move follows the publication of a landmark report from Unicef last year that found British parents were trapping their children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them.
This came after a 2007 study by the UN children’s agency ranked Britain bottom out of 21 developed countries for child welfare and third from bottom for educational standards.
Mrs Ellyatt said: “Recent research that shows that children in the UK are some of the most pressurised, unhappy and commercially vulnerable in the world.
“Children are living increasingly sedentary, media-saturated lives and are spending less and less time in contact with the natural world.
“This is having profound consequences for our children’s health, especially with regard to what has been called the ‘modern epidemic’ of obesity.
“With increasing fears about traffic and stranger-danger, children’s freedom to play outside has been profoundly restricted and yet statistically the most dangerous place to be is actually in their own home and bedrooms, especially with so many children now having access to unsupervised digital technology.
“This situation has not been helped by risk-averse policy-making.”
Advisers to the group include Prof Philip Gammage, former dean of education at Nottingham University, Dr Aric Sigman, author and fellow of the Society of Biology, and Sue Palmer, former primary school head and authority of the book Toxic Childhood.
Dr House said children’s lives had become increasingly “distorted” over the last decade.
“As parents and citizens, we all certainly need to take more responsibility for the worlds we create for our children,” he said.
“But politicians and policy-makers also have a grave responsibility to minimise the toxic impact of those aspects of modern technological society over which they have some purchase.
“I have long advocated the appointment of a new Minister for Children with a seat in the Cabinet, whose sole task would be to oversee the likely impact on children of all new government legislation,”
A Department of Education spokesman said: “Many parents are fed up with their children being surrounded by adult images and being targeted aggressively to get the latest ‘must-have’ items.
“Reg Bailey undertook a review on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and his recommendations have already prompted swift action from industry and regulators.
“We’re making progress and have already set up the Parent Port website to keep the pressure up on businesses so they listen and act on parents’ concerns. We are also working with the Chartered Institute of Marketing to explore what more can be done.”