Robert Vincent became fascinated with chemistry while growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, US. The books were written to make it sound interesting, with lots of colours and fire, so I took my books, and did what I could at home. Now in his early 40s, Philippe Louis has been doing chemistry at home in Brussels in Belgium since he was Chemistry lessons at school helped me understand the experiments, too.
I got nearly full marks on my next chemistry exam, and decided I wanted to study chemistry. His chemistry is now done in the garage, and outdoors away from inhabited areas for fireworks, pyrotechnics and energetic materials.
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He still does a wide range of experiments on top of the pyrotechnics — from perfumes and crystal growing to fermentation, making dyes and even the synthesis of as-yet unmade organic molecules. He also remembers his university presentation on explosives and powders fondly. Britton carried out a hour fractional distillation of gasoline. Of course, there have been mishaps. Louis says he learned from the mistakes he made in his younger days, ranging from generating more chlorine gas than expected to burning the bedroom carpet and dyeing patches of the ceiling yellow with a trinitrophenol dye. There was also an incident where he was trying to isolate potassium via hydrolysis of molten potassium hydroxide, and the epoxy holding his cell together melted.
He threw it all into a large bucket of water, and it frothed all over the lawn. It was just beautiful. Vincent says the neighbours knew what he was doing, and he talked to them about chemistry.
They both had technical backgrounds and said that it made perfect sense, and I never had another issue with them. Openness is a polarising opinion among hobby chemists.
Yes, there are people who are irresponsible and have no concern for safety, but the majority are responsible. There are plenty of amateur chemists who follow the letter of the law as far as chemical storage and how they dispose of their waste. Although regulations now limit what individuals are able to buy, many common chemicals are easily sourced from normal stores. Some are obvious, and the hardware store is a good starting point.
Acetone is in paint thinners, sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient in many oven cleaners and drain unblocking products, road salt often contains calcium chloride, and sodium hypochlorite and hydrogen peroxide are found in bleach products. Pool supply stores are also a rich source of reagents too, including potassium permanganate and hydrochloric acid.
And, of course, chemicals such as sodium chloride, acetic acid and sodium hydrogencarbonate are easy to find nestling among the food products at the supermarket. Others require a little creativity in isolation and transformation. Sodium nitrate stump remover can be used to make nitric acid, for example, and ether can be isolated from lawnmower starter fluid.
Other chemicals can be trickier to source. One company that sells chemicals to home chemists is Michigan-based United Nuclear. He set up the company in the late s to fill that gap. Lazar says there is a fine line to walk in terms of legal issues. But, perhaps surprisingly, things like radioactive uranium ore are not regulated in the US at all as they are deemed natural. His biggest seller, he says, is neodymium magnets, followed by chemicals, tools and equipment.
He says the biggest problem home chemists face in sourcing supplies is gaining access to restricted chemicals. Regulations do need to be tight, Lazar believes. But the authorities do not always make sensible decisions. So the authorities decided to make them illegal. Yet you can make methamphetamine in a pickle jar.
Vincent and Britton both now work as chemists in industry. He wrote a business plan, got investment backing, and at the end of the company was born. Vincent has been a process chemist at SAFC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for a decade, which has allowed him to broaden his chemistry horizons.
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He was a phosgene chemist for four years, then spent a couple of years making organometallic precursors, then a year of scale-up chemistry, and is now a flow chemist. His home chemistry is now limited to the odd bit of electroplating, and although he would love to do more, a year working in hazardous waste disposal gave him a keen sense of the liabilities involved. Britton says it is important to keep a laboratory notebook and plan experiments properly — including having a response plan in case of accident.
These are the people who are ruining the hobby, setting back science, and clipping the wings of innovators to come. It is possible to pursue your interests in a responsible fashion. You have to think twice before experimenting in case of mishaps, and it is best to work in small quantities because of safety concerns. Louis says that a well-designed home lab space is essential, with venting, a fume hood, a sink, and of course fire-fighting and first aid equipment.
And a non-chemophobic girlfriend helps! Vincent would definitely encourage people interested in home chemistry to go for it, as it helped him become a better chemist. Even though I have a laboratory at work, with fume hoods, epoxy floors and instruments, I still want another laboratory at home. Ole Comment avatar Commented on: 31 December I was allowed to have the keys for the lab for two years after I finished my master degree, continuing to try to crystalize complexes with two transition metals and magnetic exchange.
The use of Rasch Modeling provides information about the difficulty of the item and the ability of the students that are on the same measurement scale. This makes the scores interpretable since the scores are directly related to the items position on the construct map. This work is currently focused on topics in first-year general chemistry. Once these tools are developed, they can be used to evaluate the effect of instructional methodologies on student learning.
Additional projects, described, below are ones that have been initiated in collaboration with undergraduate students specific interests. This project used eye-tracking technology to explore differences in experts and novices gaze patters when answering conceptual multiple-choice chemistry questions.
This project investigated the study habits of chemistry students.
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Faculty interviews were done to assess faculty knowledge of "Desirable Difficulties". This work has been using the Wilson Building-Block Model to develop an assessment of student understanding of structure and bonding. This project makes use of both qualitative methods and quantitative methods. Once developed this instrument can be used to evaluate teaching innovations. This project is using qualitative methods to determine how the nature of the course content and the instructor influences student usage of textbooks.
The ultimate goal of this work is to develop an instrument to assess the role textbook use has in student learning of chemistry.
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Return to Pentecost Main Page. Skip to main content Grand Valley State University. Department of Chemistry. Thomas Pentecost Research.
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We do this by implementing research-based pedagogy in the classroom and developing ways to measure what students have learned so we can evaluate the success of the pedagogy. Pedagogy How instructors decide to structure their class, their pedagogy, can have a big impact on student learning. Measurement Things we want to measure in CER are not directly observable. VandenPlas This project used eye-tracking technology to explore differences in experts and novices gaze patters when answering conceptual multiple-choice chemistry questions.
A fascination for chemistry
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