Posted by: Merlin PJ30 OCT 2008
Merlin well remembers carrying out various “scientific” experiments as a boy, inspired by the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957–58. Chemistry experiments in the kitchen at home were eventually banned after hair and eyebrows were scorched and the kitchen sink stained an indelible brown with potassium permanganate.
In the 1950s a little book was published called ‘Chemistry experiments at home for boys and girls’ by H. L. Heys. I blame this book for my interest in chemistry and ultimately my entry into the pharmacy profession. (Does anyone still have a copy? There was one for sale on Amazon recently for £13.)
The monthly journal Scientific American at one time had a column called “The amateur scientist”, in which instructions for building apparatus were given, along with suggested experiments.
Some articles that Merlin found of particular interest included the optics of a drop of water (September 1989), why the first few puffs are the hardest when blowing up a balloon (December 1989), making a copper chloride laser (April 1990), sunspots and how to observe them safely (June 1990) and copying DNA in your kitchen using the polymerase chain reaction (July 2000).
Many of the experiments described used simple apparatus that could be made up on a garage workbench. Unfortunately few of the experiments seemed likely to lead to original discoveries. Merlin wondered if, in recent years, any amateur scientists have actually made any real discoveries and, if so, how they published their results. A Journal of Amateur Science was started in the UK in the 1960s but it only ran to a few issues.
In 1994, an American science enthusiast with the wonderful name of Forrest M. Mims III, set up the Society for Amateur Scientists (SAS). The SAS publishes a regular journal, the Citizen Scientist. A recent issue describes a group of citizen scientists who are using home-made magnetometers to study the Earth’s geomagnetic field.
It also invites SAS members to join a study of flowering dates of plants, shows how to make an anemometer from a bicycle digital speedometer, and lots more. Unfortunately, there appears to be no similar organisation in the UK, unless I have missed something.
Are any pharmacists involved in amateur science?