Friday, December 08, 2006

The Biggest Bang. . .

I had a strange and unusual fascination with chemistry sets when I was young. For several years in a row I asked for and received them for Christmas. They came with lots of different, relatively harmless chemicals and little books full of innocuous experiments such as making invisible ink and the like.

By the second year, the set I got was an intermediate one. Not too advanced, but it still had some great things in it. I had managed to turn several of my Barbie’s hair unusual colors and was eyeing Tiger, my cat, and wondering if I could manage to get him to hold still long enough to try an experiment on him. Mom frowned at that when I told her and said that green wasn’t really Tiger’s color (the latest results of the Barbie experiments were bright, vivid green) and I decided it probably wasn’t the best thing I could do.

When I was 12 and in 7th grade, I got a more advanced chemistry set that also had some electrical components to it. I was pretty eager to start that.

I made a clock that ran off of a potato and all sorts of other useless things. Then, one night I was watching The Brady Bunch and Peter had to make a chemical volcano. He made a really big one and I thought, I could do THAT!

There were instructions in the book to make an electrically triggered chemical volcano and so I sat out to gather the ingredients.

The instructions first called for a cone to be made. You could use chicken wire for the form and then paper mache over it to form the volcano. And I did that, and made a volcano that was about a foot high. It sat on an old kitchen table in the basement play room. My mom called it the mad scientist’s lair...

So I built the base or form and laid the initial wiring. What the instructions called for were small pebbles and sand, which sounded good, but then again, my volcano was much bigger than the 7 inch one in the instruction book, so I figured I needed some bigger rocks.

And of course that called for more chemicals. I didn’t know how much for sure, but exponentially I figured it must be a lot more, so I used all I had.

I got it all loaded up, base chemicals, rocks, pebbles and lastly fine sand and made sure my firing wires were ready. I was so excited I could hardly stand it, but the time was here, so I turned the battery system on and crossed the wires…

It started slowly, and I felt so disappointed. It fizzed a bit, then smoked a bit, then suddenly started to make a very alarming buzzing sound and the smoke got denser, a lot denser.

Then the spray started, sand spewing up, up and out of the top of the cone! Success I thought, for another minute anyway.

Then there was a very alarming whine and BLAM! Up everything went, pebbles, rocks, the cone itself. It blew completely apart and, as I looked upward, it had also blown a hole in the ceiling!

Smoke was pouring out of the room now, choking me and I ran for the stairs. Mom met me half way, having heard the explosion. She often said after that that it was too bad she didn’t have a camera handy to take a picture of the mad scientist—blackened face, hair standing on end and coughing like a fool.

When the smoke finally cleared and she could see the damage, she looked at the 12 inch wide hole in the ceiling and didn’t say a word.

Dad did however. I had to work off the money it took to fix the ceiling. And for some reason, they never gave me another chemistry set!