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Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do At Home - But Probably Shouldn't

Even though this book may seem unrealistic and delusional at first glance, it is everything but. In Mad Science, Theo Gray: launches a toy rocket using the energy from an Oreo, ignites a phosphorus sun, fires up a homemade hot tub, and makes perfectly edible ice cream from a fire extinguisher. NOTE: These experiments may seem harmless, but they use dangerous chemicals that can cost you a life. Do not, DO NOT, under any circumstances, do any of these experiments without a experienced a scientist and proper equipment.

Now, with that being said, here are some of my favorite experiments that you can do without a license. Make sure to read all safety warnings before using any of the above chemicals, and make sure to also have adult supervision.

The Lead in the Pencil: Graphite

Graphite is a allotrope, or a physical form, of carbon. [Carbon is element 6, on the periodic table.] Graphite is a soft black solid, and it's main use is in pencils, brushes, and water filters. It is actually pretty cheap, as its $2 for a pound (on eBay.)

Even though this experiment is awfully hard and time consuming to do at home, here are the instructions, and how Theo, the author, did it.

1. Saw graphite into slices 1/8 inch thick, and then saw those strips about 1/8 inch by 3/16 inch.

2. Use a table saw to cut 1/8 inch wide grooves about 1/8 inch deep into cedar boards.

3. Glue the graphite strips into the grooves.

4. Smooth the boards with sand paper.

5. Glue a thinner sheet of cedar over the top, and slice the individual pencils.

Pretty Pennies: Zinc

Zinc is a metal which was known since 400 BC. It's main use is in the center of pennies and as an anode in batteries. In this experiment, Theo also uses muriatic acid. In the presence of this acid, the zinc rapidly dissolves in the solution.

This experiment is great to do at home with all those extra pennies. Here are the instructions:

1. File the copper away from the penny on the rims. You should be able to see white metal underneath.

2. Drop the pennies into a small cup of muriatic acid. REMEMBER TO WEAR GLOVES AND EYE PROTECTION AT ALL TIMES: The acid can, and probably will, bubble vigorously, splash, and heat up.

3. After the bubbling stops, take the cup (and the pennies), to the sink and turn on the water as high as you can without causing it to splash out of the sink. Slowly pour the acid into the water with a sieve. Remember to always add acid to water, not water to acid.

4. Rinse of the pennies to get rid of all the acid. Now you have beautiful penny shells.

Make Everything Golden: Gold

Gold is a metal that's been known since ancient Egypt. If you put all the gold that's been mined, you can make a cube with dimensions of 60 feet. It's used in Jewelry, electrical wires, and currencies.

Here is how to cover everything you have in gold:

1. Paint the object with gold size, a type of glue you can get in art supply stores.

2. Open a book of gold leaf to the first page and set it near the object.

3. Take a squirrel hair brush and slide it along the back of your arm to set off a static charge.

4. Bring the tip of the brush near the gold leaf. When the gold leaf is able to hover using the static, guide it toward your object. It will crumple and overlap; that's ok.

5. Use something smooth to permanently stick on the gold leaf. Ta-da! Everything you own can be covered in gold!

Credits from Others:

"What a magnificent book. It's gorgeous, playful, and draws you in. Every single photo shows not only a deep love of science in the abstract, but also a tinkerer's love of the STUFF of science; the tools and glass, the clay and metal, and all the things that make science accessible to everyone." - Adam Savage, co-host of Myth Busters.

"This is a fabulous book, and a real education, too - a beautiful introduction to hands-on chemistry... Gray's encyclopedic knowledge and contagious enthusiasm transport us to deep intellectual realms, while never sacrificing a sense of wonder and, above all, fun." - Oliver Sacks, author of a number of books including Awakenings, Musicophillia, and Uncle Tungsten


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