Bringing Science Home Again: 'The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory'

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Image courtesy of Make Publishing.

Back in the 1960s, Raymond Barrett wrote a book on how to build a complete science lab to explore biology, chemistry, and physics. With tools and ingredients in hand, you could embrace the unknown of experiments and chemicals! Some of the formulas and instructions may no longer be practical, but what makes his book so compelling is the spirit behind it. The bold citizen scientist who could harness his or her interests, learn empirically, and take risks without everyone freaking out.

No one was more delighted than me to have Windell Oskay put into my hands a new, annotated copy of this book, re-written for modern technology, safety standards, and learning styles. This is exactly what was needed. So much of home-based experimentation right now is focused on technology and making. While there is nothing wrong with that, traditional sciences are just as important. Labs are important. The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory brings the magic of science home again.

My husband and I were waxing nostalgic on how these kinds of books were still totally available in libraries during the 1980s and how they simultaneously inspired us and disappointed us because while we were motivated and fearless, not all of the ingredients were available anymore. We couldn’t just saunter down to the pharmacy and pick up some mercury, sulfur, and salt peter. Three things make this kind of book work now: First, the DIY movement has charged people up again about owning and creating the skill building and education they desire. Second, a new annotated version helps guide you when you don’t know what you are doing, but offers modern advice and alternatives, improving accessibility to science. Finally, the problem we had in the 80s around getting our hands on the dicier ingredients has been solved by internet commerce and a little click of agreement on a liability waiver.

There are so many different options in this book, that there is something worthwhile for everyone. It will not matter if you don’t know what you want to study, you will find something that sparks—literally and figuratively.

I started off in the Geology section because it reminded me of my days in Paleontology and then later Archaeology, but was quickly distracted by the options on building generators. I also love that the book poses lots of questions without answering them for you, allowing you to find your own answers, and most likely more questions. The book places responsibility and trust on the user in a very tangible way, which is the best way to invest in a relationship. In this case, the relationship is between the authors and you who, instead of warning you to proceed with unnecessary caution, are encouraging you to try, to do, to make, to fail, and to do again.

But the most special reason I liked this book was an acknowledgment from Windell Oskay at the very end of the Forward. He says, “This is the book that taught me how to make things.” Oskay founded Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories with his awesome wife Lenore, and the work they do is creative and joyful. You can tell that they enjoy the products they make. So if this book helped Oskay get from a 10-year-old aspiring scientist to a maker and entrepreneur with a PhD in Physics, it’s definitely staying on my bookshelf. Not just for me, but for the other little scientists running around my house and my hackerspace who may find that it is the catalyst they were looking for too.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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