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. Another company called Home Science Tools (HST) also generously provided two of their kits for review: the Chemistry Equipment Kit , and its companion set, the Intro to Chemistry Kit .

The Intro to Chemistry kit comes with the following items:

30 ml Phenolphthalein solution
30 g Sodium carbonate
30 g Sodium tetraborate
30 g Potassium bitartrate
30 g Calcium hydroxide
30 g Copper II (cupric) sulfate
2 Packets of yeast
2 Packets of Alka-Seltzer tablets
1 Heavy vinyl lab apron
1 pair Safety gloves
1 Safety goggles
1 Package of food coloring
1 Tea candle
1 Package of filter paper
1 4 inch Copper metal electrode
1 D-cell battery
1 Battery holder
1 Package of alligator clips
1 Stainless steel spatula
1 Rubber stopper, #6.5 solid
1 250 ml Plastic bottle
2 Balloons
2 Bendable soda straws
2 Plastic Petri dishes
A one pound bag of sand
A 16 page experiment manual

The Chemistry Equipment Kit comes with the following items:

1 50 ml glass beaker
1 600 ml glass beaker
1 250 ml Erlenmeyer flask
1 Wickless alcohol lamp and stand
1 10 ml polypropylene graduated cylinder
1 100 ml polypropylene graduated cylinder
4 Glass test tubes
1 Test tube stand
1 Test tube holder
1 12 inch thermometer
1 Plastic funnel
1 Tubing pinch clamp
2 Glass tubes
1 2 foot length of vinyl tubing
1 #6 2-hole rubber stopper
1 #0 1-hole rubber stopper
1 Package pH papers
1 Eyedropper
1 Glass stirring rod

Note: the manual pictured above is included in the Intro to Chemistry Kit.

The Chemistry Equipment Kit is thoughtfully put together with a fairly complete set of lab ware. Most of the lab ware pieces are made in China (but isn't everything these days?) and the graduated cylinders are made of plastic. 10 ml glass graduated cylinders tend to be somewhat dainty and break easily. On the other hand, plastic lab ware can stain with extensive use.

The Intro to Chemistry kit does add additional lab ware such as the goggles (pretty nice pair, actually), the apron, and the gloves. I think the last time I wore a rubber apron was in high school chemistry. If I recall correctly they were easy to clean. The rubber gloves are nice touch and save you from having to keep buying disposable gloves.

The Intro to Chemistry kit comes up short on the number of chemicals and the number of experiments in the manual. There are only 27 experiments in the manual. This experiment on the HST website is similar to one of the experiments in the manual. It was designed for junior high students according to an email from my contact at Home Science Tools. The lab ware (in both kits), however, should last at least through high school and university and perhaps beyond. The manual is printed in color on four 11 in. x 17 in. saddle-stitched folios (thus, 16 pages). It could easily be expanded to include more experiments (and more chemicals included with the kit) to last through high school chemistry without increasing the cost of the kit too much. Those of you who have taken chemistry at university will recall that among the first words out of the professor’s mouth are, “a lot of you will not pass this class.” But even those who wash out of chemistry at university sometimes do continue chemistry as a hobby.

To expand the manual it should be easy to simply include experiments and chemicals that are already part of the website on the Chemistry Science Projects page. For example, include the Growing Gems experiment in the manual and a bottle of alum with the kit. Include the Invisible Inks experiment in the manual and a bottle of cobalt chloride in the kit. The manual and chemicals can be reconfigured in any number of ways so that even a small number of chemicals can be used for numerous experiments.

The HST chemistry supplies page has a fairly large inventory of lab ware, chemicals, and supplies. They even sell a few of the Thames and Kosmos kits including the Chem C3000 (the two HST kits together provide better quality lab ware at a significantly lower cost, but the Chem C3000 has more chemicals, and a much bigger manual with well over 300 experiments).

The HST site has a fairly large inventory of microscopes, telescopes, general science, earth science, physics, and biology kits and supplies. The site also has quite a number of science projects here.

Let's say, for example, you wanted to try the Invisible Inks experiment from the science projects page, and needed cobalt II chloride (hexahydrate). You have the option of comparing prices among, say, Home Science Tools, H.M.S. Beagle, and United Nuclear. The prices as of this writing are as follows:

Home Science Tools, cobalt II chloride (hexahydrate), 15 g: $5.00 USD (Source)
H.M.S. Beagle, cobalt II chloride (hexahydrate), 15 g: $5.00 USD (Source)
United Nuclear, cobalt II chloride (hexahydrate), 1 ounce (28.3495 g): $15.00 USD (Source)

It seems the Open Design Movement is catching on even with some businesses (Adafruit Industries comes readily to mind). With the Open Design business model, you give away your design for free, but sell the parts to build the widget or sell a complete kit that includes all the parts to build the gizmo. Certainly someone could acquire all the parts on their own without buying any parts from you, but usually it ends up being cheaper buying all the parts (or a complete kit) from a single source. Let’s say a company publishes their open source gadget and ten parts are needed to build it. Companies keep an eye on their competitors' pricing so the company that published the gadget will keep their prices pretty close to their competitors’. If you bought parts from two or more of their competitors, you would usually end up paying more in shipping costs than you would if you bought all the parts from the company that published the open source design.

Both Home Science Tools and United Nuclear publish experiments for free to attract customers to their sites. HST’s Science Projects page has a lot more chemistry experiments as well many experiments for general science, life science, earth science, and so on. United Nuclear’s Chemistry Experiment’s page is here and HST Science Projects page is here (cited above). The United Nuclear novice chemistry experiments page is actually a partial copy of The Golden Book of Chemistry (I've posted the complete PDF along with a few other old chemistry set manuals on figshare). On United Nuclear’s advanced chemistry page, in one of the experiments called “Mysterious Sodium Acetate,” step 1 says “Buy sodium acetate from unitednuclear.com.” There’s nothing wrong with making it obvious they posted the experiment to get people to buy sodium acetate from them, but people can compare prices among United Nuclear, H.M.S. Beagle, Home Science Tools, and other suppliers or simply make their own with white vinegar and sodium bicarbonate.