Contest: create a new kind of science kit for kids


That science kit, it speaks to me, somehow

For some reason, “Exciting! Safe!”, doesn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence.

Still, I want one too.

Gilbert: Exciting! Dangerous! I like it.

When I saw Gilbert, the first thing I thought of was “Wait, Ron Gilbert has a science kit?? I must buy this.”

I loved my science kit as a kid. And my radioshack electronic kit. And the woodburning set. Or the wax molding car maker. Or all of those beautiful, slightly dangerous, fun toys.

When I finally got the rock tumbler, for some reason my parents insisted that it would only work in the garage. At my grandparents’ house.

Definitely an improvement. Now at least the honesty makes me feel like the company is trustworthy.

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I’m a little confused. There are lots of science kits for kids. Maybe too many. They tend to allow for very little flexibility (ie there are 7 experiments you can do with the content of this box). My daughter is very interested in science and she gets one or two of these every Christmas/birthday. She has everything from candy making though to weather stations.

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That’s just it. My daughter has plenty of the dumbed-down inflexible highly-guided modern kits as well (I don’t buy any more, but they’re birthday present bait, basically), none of which took more than an afternoon to be done with. The old kits had tons of chemicals/electronics whatever, and (from the kit I remember) a thick book with endless possibilities. That’s what we need to return to.


And if I could just speak from my own experience: please let that thick book be designed to be used with the kit it comes with.

I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but I couldn’t do half the activities and experiments in the book my first chemistry set came with. The manufacturer made two distinctly different chemistry sets but cut costs by having only one instruction book. If my parents had heard the stream of expletives I let loose when I discovered I couldn’t make the purple gel I would still be grounded.


C’mon man, this is the dystopian future: The kit will come with a limited set of starter chemicals; but all the really good experiments will require buying all the DLC packs individually. Also the quantities and consumables bundles will be calibrated so that it’s virtually certain that you’ll run out of a chemical than can only be purchased as part of a relatively large bundle…


Fallout is such a great game.

How about using old smartphones connected to an array of inexpensive sensors… make a little tricorder, an app that has hundreds if not thousands of experiments, a place to put them, a community for kids to make their experiments public, and coordinate with other kids to conduct experiments across the world.

Keep it open source, encourage hackable hardware and software.

A digital scale, gps, motion sensers, a spectrograph using the cell phone camera if you add a diffraction grating, all already there…

Imagine the joy of proud nerdy parents watching their kids explore the surface of a strange new world with their new tricorder. That would make me happy.

You could ensicken yourself with it if you ate all the radioactive isotopes that came with this kit… maybe.

Used as directed, I think it was safe, even knowing what we know about radioactivity now.

Time was when a pharmacy could be counted on to have a reasonable variety of basic chemicals on hand, and a book of, eg, “chemical magic” could be published with some confidence that the kids would be able to get the needed supplies locally and without much fuss. These days nobody’s willing to trust that the kids won’t mix something inappropriate and hurt themselves; the kit has to be sanity-checked for every possible combination.

Time was when a radio parts place could be found without too much trouble, and books of circuits to experiment with could be published with some confidence that the kids would be able to get the needed supplies locally and without much fuss. These days, even with leadless solder (which is harder to work with), people are paranoid about giving the kid access to a soldering iron.

There’s certainly lots of opportunity for creativity in things like model rocketry. But again, that requires that parents either be willing/able to supervise or to trust.

There’s also the basic problem these days that computers are a lot easier to fiddle with than hardware or materials, and it’s hard to hurt yourself… Though actually, that might be a way to revive some of these; offer computer-based tools for modelling/evaluating experiments…?


Giving it a bit of modern relevance, how about a science kit with a couple of firewalls, routers, switches, maybe a wireless router, a traffic generator, some patch cables, and instructions on how to set things up so they get an idea of how the internet really works. Practice network hacking, see how a dos attack really works, man-in-the-middle attacks, understand how encryption/ssl works, add in your own laptops or other devices and make them work securely between each other, or see how you can compromise the security. ‘ISP in a Box’


Doing this since being a kid, this is more a function of the decline on local electronic bins full of parts and decent stock at Radio Shack than anything (I can’t think of a project I’ve done in the last couple years that I could complete without some kind of internet order, while in the past I could do tons with my allowance spent at R.S. and therefore not involving an adult).



That’s a fantastic idea!!!

Nice to see something about the Society for Science and the Public. among other things they run the Intel Science Search, the national science fair that has over the decades produced several Nobel laureates, and publish Science News, the best general interest science magazine for the non-professional. Encouraging the search for a new type of home science kit is right up their alley.

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To solve the issue of not having access to materials locally, you could set up a walled-garden internet shop that kids can order from at reasonable prices without their parents’ credit card… well, it would be with their parents’ credit card, but it’d be on an iTunes gift card type system.

It could tie in with sites like Maker Shed, which already offers great (though somewhat pricey) kits for kids interested in programming and electronics specifically. Partner with American Science & Surplus to provide a constant stream of new, interesting tools and apparatus type things (and have someone on staff who can come up with suggested ideas of things to do with everything). Partner with Ward Science, a supplier of science supplies to schools, to provide kids chemicals and stuff like that.

As an aside, the dude Ward who started the company (in Rochester, NY) is buried in the cemetery next to the University of Rochester (my alma mater) and was really into rocks and geology (I believe the company started as a supply house for earth science education). His grave marker is an enormous unusual boulder that Ward brought back from Africa expressly for that purpose.

Anyway - make the “kit” less of a kit in the traditional sense (and completely unlike the modern one-off sense). Make it instead an access token to an endless supply of new things to try - all online, of course. Have it go from the most basic of things - including exciting but simple stuff like Mentos and Diet Coke that require no special materials - to advanced, complex stuff that rewards patience.

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Give her a task; what’s the most dangerous thing you can make, given unfettered access to all of them at the same time? Prizes for extra mess.