Issue Date: December 15, 2008
"UNDERGROUND SCIENCE" is one of the most well-written articles I've come across reporting an unfortunate event in the world of the hobbyist whose passion happens to be chemistry (C&EN, Nov. 10, page 38). Thank you for having both the intelligence and courage to publish this well-researched and objective article. It was both refreshing and enlightening to read.
It would be interesting to see where the state of our economy would be if we spent more of our time and resources promoting and moving forward, rather than hindering and taking away. Setting a $475,000 budget to clean up the residential basement of a single home is not only a burden, it is an embarrassing misplacement of resources.
Where would our nation and the state of the economy be if we weren't mired by the cage of our own jurisdiction?
THE PROBLEMS facing chemistry hobbyists extend well beyond an inconvenience to enthusiasts. The chemistry sets that excited the interest of Linus Pauling, Robert B. Woodward, and countless other scientists vanished from toy and hobby stores in the late 1950s due to liability concerns in our increasingly litigious society.
Robert Brendt's "The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments," which was published in 1960, was shortly removed from libraries and banned from sale on the grounds that the projects were too dangerous for its intended audience. (Fortunately, a complete copy is available in pdf form on the Internet.) Few schools offer any kind of hands-on chemistry experience before high school, and even there, the laboratory exercises do not compare with those described by Brendt.
College enrollments are increasing, but few students who were not fascinated by chemistry at a younger age are likely to select a chemistry major, one of the most demanding degrees in the curriculum. Students such as Philip Streich, described in the same issue (C&EN, Nov. 10, page 35), are increasingly rare, and we are ceding this nation's past strength in chemistry to others.
Yes, chemicals can be hazardous and experimentation poses risks, but this is true of contact sports. We are understandably concerned with the use of chemicals in illegal drug manufacture and the creation of explosives by terrorists, but the use of firearms by criminals has not led to a blanket prohibition of their use in hunting, target practice, and collecting. The draconian policies described in this article should be resisted.
William H. Reusch
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