Will the Chemistry Set of the Future Bounce?

 By Penny Noyce

If you were asked to design the chemistry set of the future, what would you create? This is the challenge offered to the world at large by The Society for Science and the Public in a competition that closed today.

A chemistry set of the past. Image credit: wikicommons

A chemistry set of the past.
Image credit: wikicommons

Yesterday’s chemistry sets inspired many a future scientist. What could be more fun for young boys (mostly boys received chemistry sets) than to mix powders and liquids from mysterious brown bottles and create new colors, sudden bubbles and explosions? The explosions were their favorites, of course. The explosions were also probably the reason chemistry sets like that can’t be found today.

So what should the chemistry set of today look like?  It wouldn’t have to be just about chemistry, but it should invoke the same sense of exploration, adventure, and wonder. It should allow kids to just play around or to try something more serious.  And given the technological world we live in, it should probably take advantage of computing power and modern communications technology as well.

Learning about the SPARK competition about six weeks ago stoked the imagination of all of us here at Tumblehome Learning. The timeline was ridiculously short, especially interrupted by the holiday season when all of us were going to be traveling. But we sat down and brainstormed, asking each other “what if” questions. What if kids could build and sustainably power their own model villages? What if you had a ball that cried “Ow!” when you threw it against a wall? What if kids could pose each other problems on the Internet and earn points for charity by solving them?

Not all of our what-ifs made it to the final stage, of course. But we selected one core idea and scrambled to build a prototype. Our electronics adepts ordered parts and waited past Christmas for them to arrive, and then they stayed up into the small hours assembling, soldering, tweaking, trying different modes of packaging. They finished with a working prototype of a cheap, modular and adaptable multisensor with multiple kinds of output for us to video record and submit with a writeup. Another of us wrote up the Sustainable Villages as a separate, “ideation” only, submission.

Image credit: wikipedia

Image credit: wikipedia

Whatever happens with the competition itself, I suspect that innovators across the nation have been inspired as we were.  Months and even years from now, our kids should start to benefit from the new toys, kits, and weird inventions sparked by this challenge.

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