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One day Mom and Dad bought me a chemistry set. The outside of the box boasted “101 SAFE PROJECTS FOR CHILDREN”. I think Mom, Dad, and the manufacturer underestimated me.

For my first experiment I decided to make sulfuric acid. Although “How to make Sulfuric Acid” was not listed in the kit’s table of contents, the Athens, Greece library supplied me with more than enough information to get started. I carefully bubbled sulfur fumes through an Erlenmeyer flask containing water I had distilled in the first half of the lab session. This produced a weak solution of H2SO4 (sulfuric acid), which turned the litmus paper the proper color.

Oh, boy!

Mom poked her head into my bedroom. “What are you making?” she asked. “That smells HORRIBLE!”

“It’s just sulfur dioxide, Mom.” I responded. “Smells just like rotten eggs!”

Later, I distilled the weak acid solution, producing a thick syrup. A fresh piece of litmus paper turned bright RED even without submersing it in the fluid. Just the FUMES turned it red.

Oh, BOY!

About a week later Mom noticed a dime-sized hole that had been burned through my bedroom laboratory’s carpet. “What’s THAT?” she asked, pointing the way only mothers can do.

“I must have spilled something on the rug,” I said. “You know, something nasty from that chemistry set.”

Mom was shocked. “Where is the chemistry set now?” she demanded.

“Don’t worry. I threw it away. What I REALLY want is a Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab!”

Quote from above link: “The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book (Dagwood Splits the Atom) and a government manual “Prospecting for Uranium.”‘

Sure enough, several weeks later Dad brought home a Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. He was obviously pleased with my continued interest in science, and possibly hoped for a budding nuclear physicist gracing the family tree.

The first thing I did was put some of the uranium powder into the sample of the sulfuric acid I had made…

Those were the days.

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