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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 15, 2013

The Heirloom Chemistry Set

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Posted by Derek

I wrote here about chemistry sets as gifts for science-minded youngsters, and at the time, the only recommendation I could make was the Thames and Kosmos line (which are definitely still worth a look). A reader sends along another possibility, though: the Heirloom Chemistry Set, a deliberate attempt to recreate the classic sets of 50 or 60 years ago. It's not cheap, but it certainly looks like the real deal. This part, though, is cause for concern:

Regarding equipment, while we have shipped custom chemistry sets (both chemicals and equipment) to customers in each of the 50 states for the past 10 years it needs to be noted that some states do frown on its citizens owning chemical glassware. We recommend that if this is a concern to you that you contact your state and/or local authorities to ascertain what may be allowed.

Does anyone have more detail on this? Can you really get in trouble for owning Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers, and graduated cylinders, the kind of everyday chemical glassware sold with this set? I'm pretty sure that most backyard methamphetamine jockeys don't bother with decent glassware, you know?

Comments (38) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Science Gifts


1. Mike Parker on November 15, 2013 9:32 AM writes...

Every state has laws against the possession of drug paraphernalia which could be used for making illegal drugs. These laws are generally worded so broadly that possession of completely innocuous household items could be considered illegal. Prosecutorial discretion is the only thing that divides legal from illegal items.

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2. PPedroso on November 15, 2013 9:35 AM writes...

Somebody has been watching too much Breaking Bad! :D

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3. Bob Weiss on November 15, 2013 9:35 AM writes...

Yes, the state of Texas in particular. The list of prohibited glassware and lab apparatus is so broad that you could be prosecuted for having a Mr. Coffee machine in your office (contains a flask, a heating element and a filter funnel, afterall).

I suspect that the ability to prosecute anybody at any time was the exact intent of this and similar laws.

Right from the horse's mouth (or would that be horse's ass?):

I particularly love item "K" on that list--"A Transformer". That's right--if your home has a doorbell, you are under suspicion as a meth cook!

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4. Anonymous on November 15, 2013 9:37 AM writes...

Possession of chemistry sets is completely legal, unless accompanied by tattoos.

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5. Cato the Elder on November 15, 2013 9:40 AM writes...

I LOVED my chemistry set as a kid, and I still remember that day when I somehow spilled bromothymol blue all over my hands and arms :P But it seems sets now a days are pretty tame--from what I hear they used to have things like uranium ore and cyanides...

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6. Bethany Halford on November 15, 2013 10:08 AM writes...


Did you see my recent Newscripts column in C&EN on the contest to reimagine the chemistry set?

That $50,000 prize is no joke.

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7. Chemjobber on November 15, 2013 10:13 AM writes...

Yeah, I think the typical RBF in the meth world is a 20 oz Mountain Dew bottle.

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8. Vaudaux on November 15, 2013 10:26 AM writes...

#3 Bob Weiss. That's a scary list, especially for Texans or anyone who lives where prosecutorial discretion and common sense may diverge.

While you are purging your kitchens of Mr Coffees and other drug paraphernalia, be sure to discard your fat-separating pitcher (Google it if you don't know the term). You don't want to have a separatory funnel in the house, do you?

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9. Chemweaver on November 15, 2013 11:07 AM writes...

In another life, (BC-before chemistry) i used to sell floor coverings in Texas. You would not believe the number of drug houses that i went into that had to be refurbished from being drug labs that the bank wanted to sell. I saw some of the equipment, and let me tell you, at that time, you would have drooled over their set ups. Some were pilot plant scale. All next door to the neighbors in nice areas too. A few blew up, which kind of gave away the game. Times have changed, and i dont think they go for the quality equipment anymore.

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10. Anonymous on November 15, 2013 11:10 AM writes...

RE: Chemjobber

Having been on raids for meth labs (after the arrests/explosions) one can tell who the internet chemists are and those that have a professional background (or help).

Some labs had 2L plastic bottles with garbage bags, camping gear. Others had heating mantles, stir plates, rudimentary fume hoods and tyvek gear.

There a lot of professional consultants that assist in "start-ups" and yield optimisations (a la breaking bad) that can charge 15-50K per day.

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11. Gene on November 15, 2013 11:37 AM writes...

"There a lot of professional consultants that assist"

And I got a momentary mental flash of a business card, so I will have the giggles for the rest of the day.

Seriously though, this is right up there with the CPSC banning kid's motorbikes because they contain lead (in the batteries) and the CPSC banning strong toy magnets.

I spent a lot of money on lobbying against the bike ban as part of the AMA (Amer. Motorcycle Assn.) and we got it overturned. They had already closed down a lot of dealerships for selling after the ban started.

Belonging to a strong lobby group that will fight for your rights is far more important than voting nowadays.

It's why I'm an NRA member even though I will probably never own a gun.

It's also why I own a Japanese car instead of an American one, and why I shop at Harbor Freight instead of Sears Craftsman.

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12. Wibbler on November 15, 2013 12:01 PM writes...

All I can say is, it is very kind of Texas to list the rudimentary equipment needed to manufacter illicit drugs

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13. Wibbler on November 15, 2013 12:02 PM writes...

All I can say is, it is very kind of Texas to list the rudimentary equipment needed to manufacture illicit drugs

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14. Anonymous on November 15, 2013 12:04 PM writes...

Has anyone told the law makers that you can make illegal drugs with cups, glasses and household crockery? Maybe they will ban those too...

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15. Canageek on November 15, 2013 3:42 PM writes...

Wait, can't you buy automatic weapons in Texas? They've banned lab glassware but you can buy military grade weapons?

Dear US: You've gone from scaring me, to scaring AND confusing me.

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16. BG on November 15, 2013 3:43 PM writes...

I was surprised to see carbon tetrachloride on that picture with all chemical bottles lined up. Everything else I saw could go down the drain and not cause problems, but the carbon tet waste needs to be disposed of properly, as it depletes ozone and is toxic.

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17. Mike on November 15, 2013 4:03 PM writes...

#8: "You don't want to have a separatory funnel in the house, do you?"

Could mean an ugly end for the cold brew coffee fad.
Officer: "What are you using that separatory funnel for?"

Coffeegeek: "Extracting a stimulant for later consumption. Would you like some?"

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18. PSU on November 15, 2013 5:51 PM writes...

@15: You cannot buy automatic weapons anywhere in the US without extensive expense, investigation, and authorization. Please do not confuse the AR platform with automatic weapons (a common misconception), which have been severely limited since 1934. The AR stands for Armscor Rifle, from the original manufacturer of the weapon. These are not automatic or burst fire capable in their civilian versions. They are purely one trigger pull, one shot rifles.

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19. Another Kevin on November 16, 2013 10:07 AM writes...

It is indeed that bad. The controlled substance list has also expanded to many common non-drug chemicals. People who work in pharma labs will hardly notice, because their purchasing and EHS departments take care of the paperwork, but ordinary citizens can, for instance, no longer purchase elemental iodine - and even alkali metal iodides have fallen under the ban. As a hiker, I consider this action to be a message from the government that methamphetamine is a worse scourge than dysentery.

Now I use chlorine dioxide, which has to be made up fresh from sodium chlorate and phosphoric acid every time, requiring a wait while the reaction proceeds and more annoyance, since now I have several more containers of liquids: two stock solutions, the bottle cap that serves as the reaction vessel, and the container of possibly contaminated water. The iodine method had just the water bottle and a little vial of iodine crystals under water; decant off saturated solution and refill with each use.

I dread the day when the DEA discovers that chlorine dioxide works as an oxidant in drug production. I'll have to switch to hypochlorite (in amounts toxic to humans - some of the protozoa are hard to kill!) and neutralize it afterwards with ascorbate or something. Or go back to boiling. Either way, I'll lose the protection against recontamination that comes from having residual halogen in the water.

Of course, the hassle is worth it. Because drug money supports terrorism. And terrorism is also the reason that the Government needs to monitor this post to make sure that I'm toeing the party line. So, hi government! See, I'm saying it's worth it, this is just inevitable collateral damage!

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20. chemfan on November 16, 2013 11:28 AM writes...

John Kuhls, the man producing these sets is the most sincere individual you'd want to help. His HMS Beagle store in Parkville, MO near Kansas City is awesome and he loves getting kids excited about science. These heirloom sets look fantastic.

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21. Matt on November 16, 2013 11:37 AM writes...

@Bob Weiss: being able to arbitrarily arrest people is *exactly* the point of the War on (some classes of people who use some) Drugs.

Heck, some towns in Texas have dropped the pretense and just turned their police force into an outright shakedown operation:,_Texas#Asset_forfeiture_controversy

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22. RTP lab rat on November 16, 2013 9:31 PM writes...

Many times, when I put out the recycle bin, I look at all the inert plastic containers (PP, HDPE, etc.) in there and think what a simple set of beakers/flasks for a teaching chemistry set they would make. I always keep some of the containers around in the garage, cut down to the volume I need, to use for various purposes.

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23. gippgig on November 16, 2013 11:40 PM writes...

How long till dihydrogen monoxide is restricted?

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24. Anonymous BMS Researcher on November 16, 2013 11:59 PM writes...

I doubt silly rules stop meth labs, but they sure inconvenience honest citizens. Psuedoephedrine has become a semi-controlled substance now, so I have to show ID to the pharmacist to get decongestants (the stuff you can get without this hassle does not work for my sinuses).

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25. Beth on November 17, 2013 12:38 AM writes...

Texas' list of items requiring registration has actually been cut down quite a bit. The original list included thermometers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and beakers. But the current list is still a pain. If you have any of these items, you must register them with the local police agency and have your facility inspected at least annually. There is an associated fee of about $300, I think. (It has been 5 years or so since I had to deal with this.). You must demonstrate that all of these items are secured "properly".

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26. yeroneem on November 17, 2013 4:07 AM writes...

In Russia, they are not banning glassware, but many organic solvents and mineral acids are restricted. See e.g. table 3 at the bottom here:

I guess nobody had the imagination to ban specific vessel shapes...

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27. dlunsford on November 17, 2013 4:30 PM writes...

Tell them to take a flying leap and then head on over to Skylighter for some real fun!!

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28. Pennpenn on November 17, 2013 6:08 PM writes...

Perhaps they're opposed to science? It's a hell of a drug.

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29. Vader on November 18, 2013 10:53 AM writes...

The chemistry set I had when I was young contained no uranium powder nor cyanide, but it did have both potassium ferrocyanide and potassium ferricyanide. And ferric chloride at a low enough pH to alarm my otherwise fairly easygoing father. And an alcohol lamp that I figured out how to convert into a small flamethrower. And I had a big container of sulfur left over from when my grandmother used it to dose the pigs. Good times.

My own children have no idea.

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30. Kent G. Budge on November 18, 2013 10:58 AM writes...

Related topic. Is anyone as disturbed as I am by what science fairs have become?

The ones I've seen lately are filled with fancy posters cut out with the same cookie cutter. The same precise five steps to doing a scientific experiment. The kids have had the formal methodology thoroughly drummed into their heads, at the expense of any sense of fun or wonder.

And the sad thing is, the formal methodology bears as much resemblance to real science as Roberts' Rules of Order bear to how political decisions are actually made.

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31. Orv on November 18, 2013 2:49 PM writes...

@15: Do not confuse Texas with the US as a whole. It's an unusually conservative state even for the US. Note that "conservative" and "libertarian" are not the same thing; conservatives tend, for example, to favor very loose firearm regulations and building codes, but want very strict controls on drugs, alcohol, and reproductive services.

Rules on all these things very vastly from state to state. For example, possessing small amounts of marijuana is legal in Washington, but a felony in North Dakota.

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32. Slurpy on November 18, 2013 2:55 PM writes...

@27 - Don't mention Skylighter. The Feds will surely bone them just as they did United Nuclear.

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33. fuelair on November 18, 2013 2:58 PM writes...

Science Fairs have mostly vanished in Florida - they take away time from being ready for he replacement tests for FCAT. When they were still going on, though, most were exactly as you describe since '98. And many simply duplicated research already covered in science books and books on science. Pretty pointless.

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34. fuelair on November 18, 2013 3:03 PM writes...

I now know why rather many comments are duplicates - when you push the "post" button there is nothing occurring that indicates anything has happened. Without any activity/indication something has happened it is logical to assume nothing has - so we push again!!!!!

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35. Kent G. Budge on November 18, 2013 3:16 PM writes...

My impression is that kids do Science Fair, if they do it at all, to punch their ticket for Harvard. Where they will study business.

They don't do it because science is fun for them.


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36. CMCguy on November 18, 2013 4:02 PM writes...

#30/35 KGB is possible reduction in quality of science fairs a reflection of 1) general lack of well qualified science teachers, 2) lack of available funds for schools to support such programs, 3) lack of parental involvement to aid students and teachers (and judge) or 4) possible fear of legal action if someone is harmed?

I keep a few old flasks, grad cylinders, beakers and other sundry lab items on top of bookcases in my office to remind me of days past in the lab however its probably the prominent display of product vials (water or placebo samples) that might raise eyebrows if was ever raided. I also know in my crawlspace I have a couple near complete sets of organic chem lab glassware kits, acquired from the year end purge trash years and years ago, although I can't even think that small-scale anymore.

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37. Kent G. Budge on November 18, 2013 4:15 PM writes...

@ #36 CMCguy,

Could be any or all of those things.

Still, some of the science teachers I had 30 or 40 years ago were no great shakes, but some were outstanding. Neither kind had any impact on my enthusiasm, really.

I'm not sure funding is critical. It doesn't take much to rope off some gymnasium space and recruit some volunteer judges. Of course, this assumes the kids pay for their own projects -- which is not necessarily a bad thing; it encourages ingenuity.

3. I have no idea what parental involvement is like on the whole. I've actually seen a few helicopter parents who are too involved, though. It's possible there's less community support than whenI was a kid, though it's hard to be sure. Science has lost some of its cachet.

4. I can't imagine this isn't a factor in a lot of it. Some of the science fair projects I saw as a kid, cool ones, involved use of radioisotopes; high voltage; moderately toxic chemicals, such as strong alkalis; and so on. Biological projects were already starting to come under scrutiny back then, and I can only imagine it's gotten worse and more widespread.

I could go on and rant about the imminent collapse of Western civilization, but that's not terribly constructive. I'll leave it at saying that there has been some wonderful progress during my lifetime, but there's also a lot that has just gotten stupider and unhappier.

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38. DensityDuck on November 21, 2013 2:25 PM writes...

@ #37 Kent: Heck, for my first science project, I demonstrated a practical application of fluids self-separating by density...with a layer cocktail, which I brought in and set up in the display. To this day I am amazed that nobody drank the damn thing. (Although my dad did have to take one for the team and drink a whole bottle of Creme de Menthe.)

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