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Chemistry set manufacturing for children began in the early 20th century and peaked popularity in the 1950's. (Photographs by Gregory Tobias, Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections)

The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Chemistry Set

Banning toys with dangerous acids was a good idea, but was the price a couple generations of scientists?

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(Continued from page 2)

But the reality is that a traditional chemistry set is probably no longer necessary for performing chemistry at home. Books and manuals are readily available and equipment and chemicals can be bought online or scrounged from around the house, like Francl did when she was young. And while safety should be a concern, parents should recognize that most home chemistry accidents happen not from kids mixing chemicals in the basement but from adults mixing cleaning supplies upstairs. “The things that kill people, if you look at the accidents in homes, are people mixing bleach with everything from ammonia to pesticides,” Francl says.

Home experimentation has inspired scientists and inventors for years, and it would be a shame if concerns about safety stopped budding chemists from getting a start. “I would encourage parents to let their kids be a little risky and let them try things where it might be complicated to work,” Francl says. And, “Be patient with the mess.”

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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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