Thursday, September 16, 2010

All Things Chemical

Note: recycled but updated!!

We like to do science things at this house. We like to read about science. We like to do messy experiments. We like to go to science museums. We like to have lots of great science resources at hand. It's all good.

When I posted the They Might Be Giants "Meet the Elements" song from their kids' album "Here Comes Science", I had a request to mention some other good chemistry resources. Since I'm not sure of the age range, I've decided to go ahead and make a post on a variety of good chemistry resources to support your child's explorations in this area.

Books for Kids

Elements With Style is an excellent and fun introduction to the periodic table. This book includes a very stylish periodic table poster that you can remove and attach to a wall somewhere.

Where we were last in KidsBooks in Vancouver, we picked up another   Basher book titled Chemistry: Getting a Big Reaction that's perhaps not as as successful as The Periodic Table, but still manages to present the concepts in a way that's pleasing for the younger learner.

For the young scientist, DK's The Most Explosive Science Book in the Universe (by the Brainwaves) is a fun romp through the basic concepts of chemical and physical science.

The illustrations are charming and cartoon-like, with many different ideas and concepts explored on each page. It's like a survey course in physical science that is educational and entertaining... edutainment in a book format!

When it comes to chemistry, of course our friends at Horrible Science ("science with the squishy bits left in") will come up with something to amuse us.

Nick Arnold's book, Chemical Chaos, follows the Horrible mould and your kids will probably enjoy it.

Horrible Science also has a couple of experiment books (if your are brave) called  Explosive Experiments (surprise) and Really Rotten Experiments (surprise, again).

There are many, many good experiment books out there. So many that it's hard to narrow down the choice. I have liked the ones from DK as well as from Usborne. And I like this new one (for my explosive-loving boy): Blast Lab. I picked up my copy from Bolen Books, so it's likely possible that you can preview it before you invest in it.

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker is a brilliant book on the origins and development of the periodic table. Instead of the periodic table being left to languish in some dusty rote memory part of our brains, this book brings it alive as it attaches the elements to real people and situations.

This book would also be appropriate for teen learners (and their parents).

This gorgeous book, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theo Gray, is a wonderful way to take the period table and make it tangible. The layout of the book is aesthetically pleasing and the photography of the elements is stunning.

The book is great for any age group and also makes a stunning coffee table book.

Books For Older Learners

This new offering by Sam Kean, reporter for Science, looks quite intriguing and is getting great reviews. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Table of the Elements.

"Sam brimming with puckish wit, and his love for the elements is downright infectious. Kean's book is so rambunctious and so much fun, you'll find yourself wanting to grab someone just to share tidbits. But the alchemy of this book is the way Kean makes you see and experience and appreciate the world differently, with a real sense of wonder and a joy of discovery, that is downright elemental." --Caroline Leavitt, Boston Globe

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks (of Awakenings)

Lifted from Amazon: "Oliver Sacks's luminous memoir charts the growth of a mind. Born in 1933 into a family of formidably intelligent London Jews, he discovered the wonders of the physical sciences early from his parents and their flock of brilliant siblings, most notably "Uncle Tungsten" (real name, Dave), who "manufactured lightbulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire." Metals were the substances that first attracted young Oliver, and his descriptions of their colors, textures, and properties are as sensuous and romantic as an art lover's rhapsodies over an Old Master. Seamlessly interwoven with his personal recollections is a masterful survey of scientific history, with emphasis on the great chemists like Robert Boyle, Antoine Lavoisier, and Humphry Davy (Sacks's personal hero)." -- Wendy Smith

For a more thorough discussion of the periodic table, you may want to look at this book: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley.

From Booklist: "Following brief information on the element's name and pronunciation, each entry is arranged into several sections addressing specific uses or roles. For example, "Food Element" treats the importance of the element in the human diet, and "Element of History" deals with the element's discovery. Also covered are medical, economic, environmental, and chemical aspects. There is even an "Element of Surprise," which highlights some interesting facts. Here and in occasional sidebars we learn that Mozart may have been accidentally poisoned by antimony, cobalt was once used to make invisible ink, silver can be used to sterilize water, mercury was once used to treat syphilis, and Napoleon may have been poisoned by arsenic from the wallpaper at his home on St. Helena."

Many homeschooling bloggers are fond of this book: Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. We have a copy on our shelves as well, for future reference. This book will help you to create a true chemistry lab experience for your older learners.

Geek Dad (the Wired Blog for parents) recently shared about a website that came out of the nostalgia for the "good old days" of chemistry labs: Make: Science Room. You can find everything you need there for setting up a home-based science lab.

Theo Gray (author of The Elements: A Visual Exploration...), has written an accessible book with lots of hands-on chemistry: Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home -- But Probably Shouldn't

“This is a fabulous book, and a real education, too – a beautiful introduction to hands-on chemistry. Theo Gray brings us dozens of experiments in minute, clear, and loving detail, and each one becomes a door onto the marvels of how chemicals react. Whether he is showing us how to make table salt from its violent elements, or, in a quieter vein, to make one’s own nylon thread or “lead” pencils, Gray’s encyclopedic knowledge and contagious enthusiasm transport us to deep intellectual realms, while never sacrificing a sense of wonder and, above all, fun.”
—Oliver Sacks

And to dig more deeply into Chemistry (for the older learner or for you, as the parent), you may be interested in reading Cathy Cobb's The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things. This book is written for the lay person and is easily accessible.

From Amazon: "Think of this as a chemistry education condensed into a single book: a lightning tour of the field for the uninitiated. What the work lacks in depth is made up for in breadth, covering all the material of a general chemistry course along with organic, inorganic and analytical chemistry and biochemistry; there's even a chapter on forensic chemistry."

There are other books about everyday chemistry that are on my "to peruse" list:

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles: 62 All-New Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life by Dr. Joe Schwarcz. He's also written The Genie in the Bottle: 67 All-New Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life.

Napleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur


Periodic Table Playing Cards

The deck includes instructions for two games and the cards do represent all the elements (grouped using colour) on the Periodic Table.


I found this beautiful poster with pictures of the elements here. They ship to Canada.

They also carry a deck of photo cards that use the same images as included on the poster.


Science kits are flooding the market and there are lots of chemistry-based kits in the mix. You can get Horrible Science kits, perfume and candy kits, crystal growing kits, and so on. Kits are great in some ways and pretty limiting in others. Some (most?) parents are overwhelmed with the idea of setting up a home lab and if this is you and you a child who really wants to concoct, then some kits are likely a great idea.

If you want a kit, I recommend the Thames and Kosmos Chemistry kits. The two best kits (Chem C2000 and Chem C3000) are difficult to get in Canada (although I managed to get my hands on the C3000 kit through a US supplier). You may be able to order the Chem C1000 kit through a local retailer.

If you have younger kids, then the ScienceWiz Chemistry set is a good place to start. It takes kids through the states of matter with some fun and safe experiments along the way.

A different kind of chemistry kit, useful for constructing molecules, is the ScholAR Molecular Model Set available through Boreal Science. We bought a different one last winter which we really liked called the MolyMod Inorganic/Organic Chemistry Molecular Model Set. It's available through Efston Science.

Efston Science (a Canadian online store) also has a great selection of kits. Check them out!


If you want some fabulous science resource ideas, then do check out Steve Spangler Science. We love this guy and his wacky experiments (you can find them demonstrated on YouTube). We have purchased some items from his site (and there are border costs associated) and we're quite happy with them.

The other "tried and true" site for experiment ideas is Robert Krampf's The Happy Scientist. You can subscribe to receive his weekly experiment (free) but if you sign up to access his whole site, there is a fee ($20USD).

And a great resource for other chemistry-related ideas is Kathy Ceceri's Home Chemistry blog. She has tons of great links there so I won't reinvent that wheel.

I leave you with some more TMBG...

Plus a correction (the sun is not made of gas after all... it's made of plasma):

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