Try This At Home.

As a kid I had a chemistry set. I started out with it doing some of the more “educational” experiments, trying to learn serious stuff about chemistry, but then I realized I was only interested in making cool looking crystals or colors or blowing stuff up–which is why I added potassium permanganate and glycerin to my collection of chemicals. By the way, if you don’t know what potassium permanganate and glycerin do when mixed together and you have young children, go to the drugstore and buy some of each. Then take some modeling clay and form it into a volcano and put about a tablespoon of potassium permanganate crystals in it. Pour some glycerin on top of that, then stand back. It’s best if you do this experiment outside since there will be plenty of smoke.

In addition to attempting to burn down my parents’ house I also tried collecting as many elements in their pure (or almost pure) state as I could. I remember having samples of sulfur, lead, a small bottle of mercury I tried to freeze (unfortunately the freezer wouldn’t go down to -40), some zinc, and maybe a few others. I never did my hands on the ones I really wanted–selenium, bismuth, bromine, thorium, or arsenic. I didn’t want these elements because they were dangerous–I just wanted them because they were unusual and interesting.

For the ones I’ll never see in their real state, though, there’s Theodore Gray’s Photographic Periodic Table of the Elements. And it is so cool. They’re not just photos–many of the pictures also have a “spin” option so you can see a video of them, or of various compounds made with them, from multiple angles. It is just amazing. Check out the video of a large and incredibly beautiful bismuth crystal. Gray has just published a new book, The Elements, which also includes his photos, but I think his earlier book Mad Science is worth checking out too. It’s full of “don’t try this at home” stuff. But you know you want to.

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