In a previous article I built a magnetic stirrer using littleBits and Erector set parts for the home laboratory. At the end of the article I added a design for a sample rotator (a device used to continuously mix lab samples). I have (somewhat) improved the design of the Erector set and littleBits sample rotator and in this article I document the build.

The Rotator ”Base”

Scholars writing in the Danish Journal of Archaeology say that "grog" dates back a lot farther than previously believed; to perhaps 1500 B.C. and in an area stretching from northwest Denmark to the Swedish island of Gotland.

Like most things, somewhere along the way the British navy has tried to take credit for it, so you often see it called a rum drink. Instead of being rum-based, ancient grog was a hybrid beverage made from whatever local ingredients they could turn into alcohol, including honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, wheat, barley rye — and sometimes even from grape wine imported from southern or central Europe.

Back in the day, some chemistry sets came with a mechanical centrifuge. They were operated similar to those old-timey pump style tin spinning toy tops. This is the style centrifuge that came with my chemistry set:

Note: I came up with this story idea long before I was able to find a second-hand salad spinner and now I can’t remember where I found this picture. I am unable to cite its source.

Here’s another example of a chemistry set centrifuge on Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ site:

While writing my series on the Science Play and Research Kit, I hoped to survey chemistry sets that are already on the market. I was able to get a reviewer’s sample of the Chem C3000 and you can take a look at my review of the Thames and Kosmos set here.

If you buy extra virgin olive oil, caveat emptor. Olive oil has been an avenue for corruption for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years. Some extra virgin olive oil in studies was found to not only not be extra virgin, it wasn't even olive oil.

'Premium' chocolate has the same issue. Anyone can put Premium on a label and the only way to really know was to buy it and taste it - and if you bought it, you compounded the problem.

Platinum is used in catalytic converters to transform toxic fumes from a car's engine into more benign gases, to produce high octane gasoline, plastics and synthetic rubbers, and to fight the spread of cancerous tumors. But it's not cheap, which you know if you have ever shopped for an engagement ring knows. 

In a new study, researchers from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering used computational methods to identify dozens of platinum-group alloys that were previously unknown to science but could prove beneficial in a wide range of applications. If one of the compounds identified in the new study is comparable in performance but easier on the wallet, it would be a boon to many industries worldwide as well as the environment. 

Though table salt, sodium chloride (NaCl), is one of the best-known and most studied chemical compounds known, it still has a few mysteries.

Under ambient conditions, it crystallizes in a cubic unit cell and is very stable with one sodium atom (Na) and one chlorine atom (Cl). According to the octet rule, all chemical elements strive to fill their outermost shell with eight electrons, which is the most stable configuration, found in noble gases. Sodium has one extra electron and chlorine is missing one, so sodium donates one electron to chlorine, leaving both atoms with an outer shell containing eight electrons and forming a strong ionic bond.  

Vodka can make people do strange things - especially if they also have a phone. But it can also do cool things, like demonstrating how to message people using chemical signals when conventional wireless would fail.

Researchers in the UK have successfully text messaged 'O Canada' using evaporated vodka. 

The chemical signal, using the alcohol found in vodka in this case, was sent four metres across the lab with the aid of a tabletop fan. It was then demodulated by a receiver which measured the rate of change in concentration of the alcohol molecules, picking up whether the concentration was increasing or decreasing.

You can perform simple qualitative analysis to detect certain metals in various substances using borax bead, and flame tests. The inoculating loop for these tests is very easy to make. You can use 20 gauge to 26 gauge Nichrome or platinum wire depending on what is easiest for you to find. To make the loop use a 20cm length of wire and something cylindrical to wrap the wire around such as a small brad or finishing nail. I used an ink cartridge from a disposable ball point pen.

Note: the wire in this photo is oversized to make it easier to see in the photograph.

Wrap the wire around the cylinder to form a loop:

Kudos to Thames and Kosmos for getting their chemistry sets on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. They have these three introductory sets in the store: the “Dangerous Book for Boys Classic Chemistry Science Kit,” “The Chem C500,” and “The Chem c1000.” Sadly, the chemistry set has to compete with the Xbox One and the Play Station 4 so, if there’s any money left over for after Christmas sales you’ll at least have the opportunity to browse the three sets in the store—pick up the box, feel its weight, read the back of the box for the contents and information about the experiments that can be done with these kits. You’ll have time to use your Google-fu to look up reviews for the kits.