Getting More Lab Time

by Terry 9/15/2008 12:16:00 PM

Despite being completely, physically, exhausted this weekend, I managed to get some time in my garage lab. Richard came by and kept me company for a bit while working the experiment. It was fun to set things up, work and have time to chat too. While Richard was with me, I took note on how his visit impacts actually working experiments. Specifically, I made note on the types of distractions his company created. This is not a bad thing, and contrarily, it gave me an opportunity to note what things to pay attention to when I have one or two teenagers working experiments.

For example, goggles and aprons are a must. I need to be habitual about insisting both are worn when the garage is in ‘lab mode’. No exceptions. Saturday was a beautiful day, 75° F (24° C), sunny and almost no breeze, so I had my garage wide open. Richard, who lives a few houses away, walked right in and joined me. I need to set a mental alarm for when that happens. Enter the garage – put on goggles, etc.

Also, keeping a good lab notebook is harder when you are in a conversation. Keeping a lab notebook is more important, so, “excuse me for a moment, I need to write this down”, should be a stock phrase.

I think I am getting better and at working experiments too. I hoped and expected this. It makes sense that efficiency comes with practice. I am making note of the little things I need to have on hand for each lab and particularly how long each lab takes to complete. This will be helpful when I start having people share my lab with me; a day which is fast approaching. As I note and address these peculiarities, I spend less time adjusting and more time working.

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chemistry | Personal

Differential Solubility Experiment

by Terry 8/20/2008 2:24:00 PM

Monday and Tuesday night I started working chemistry experiments with Kaitlin. I was working in the garage and Kaitlin started to get excited and beg to do some experiments. Wow, how can I argue with that! So, together we worked on lab 6.1, Differential Solubility: Separating Sand from Sucrose, from the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. I can call the whole event a success and a learning experience.

Most importantly, Kaitlin had fun, and I enjoy working with her. I hope her enthusiasm grows with time. At her age, currently eight, she loses interest in many activities after 45-60 minutes. This is typical with most kids her age, I have learned and see this when I teach martial arts and I was reminded of this while working the lab. In essence, I can do many experiments with Kaitlin, but I have to be mindful of how long portions will take. I may need to let her go play someplace else if an experiment ends up being a lesson in hurry-up-and-wait. Surprisingly separating sand from sucrose was an example of this.

I did the experiment using sand from a large bag of ‘play sand’ I purchased at a big-box hardware store. This play sand is low quality with coarse and variegated particle sizes and materials. That is, it is as much silt as it is pebble. When mixing equal mass of the sand and sucrose (powdered confectioners’ sugar, in my case), adding water and filtering the mixture, I noticed it took hours for the sand to drain. It held the water like a sponge. I expected this to a point, so I let the filter apparatus sit overnight and it was still holding water the next day. This really drove home the point on managing Kaitlin’s time when working experiments.

The end results are interesting. The play sand retained almost 5% of the sucrose mass, despite liberal rinsing with water. The increased volume of water meant it took much longer to evaporate the filtrate and recover the sucrose than if I could have used a third the volume of water. Again, this is another point to consider when working with an eight-year-old. The retained mass and the physical nature of the sand turned the filterant mass into a kind of candied concrete once I dried it in my small oven. Still, I call the experiment a success overall, particularly since all my masses are accounted for, within margins of error.

So, now I am looking at the same experiment again, with an eye toward timing and materials. The play sand is good for some further experimentation. I would like to know more about its composition, for example. However, I am looking at working with kids, ages 8 to 19 at the moment. I need to consider doing the same experiment with a very consistent and uniform sand source, like filtered aquarium sand, where the particles do not retain or react with the filtrate.

One thing I am trying to note carefully as I walk through experiments in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments is the time it takes to complete each lab. This will help as I rework experiments for my ‘science club’ and in scheduling time.

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chemistry | Personal

Martial Arts and Science Posts

by Terry 8/7/2008 3:43:00 PM

I posted a few report-like pages today on martial arts, building a lab and starting a science club. Okay, martial arts and home chemistry is not exactly a natural match, but I am what I am. The purpose of the report pages are to record slow-change commentaries which are not well suited to a daily, or somewhat daily, journal.

BlogEngine 1.4.5 is a significant improvement, which helps. I am better able to edit and manage site content than I was before, which was a factor in creating stand-up pages for certain topics. A page hierarchy is a little easier to put together. The improved functionality is why I created my martial arts and home science reports; they are maintainable.

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chemistry | Martial Arts | Personal

Progress at Last

by Terry 7/30/2008 9:38:00 AM

I have finally made some progress on my home chemistry lab. I set a rough target for having everything ready to go by the end of summer (really the start of the school year), around the end August. So far I am on track, and maybe ahead of my plan because I am just plain overeager. I took pictures of the currently clean and fully assembled workbench, which is the mainstay of my plan. With everything coming together I will be able to run a few labs sessions to establish a routine ahead of working with others in my ‘science club’ scheme.

My inspiration for a home chemistry lab and creating a science club where I can tutor my daughter and a few neighborhood kids came from my interests in the sciences, teaching and the efforts of Robert Bruce Thompson and his book, Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. I am ready to act on that inspiration.

I spent a portion of Sunday afternoon with my friend Richard working in my garage leveling my workbench and attaching the melamine counter tops. The counter tops are nothing special, just quarter-sheets of melamine-coated particle board. Years ago, when I managed a SCUBA equipment service center, I built my work bench out of the same material, which held up for years of abuse. Now, like then, I want a cheap, easily replaceable and chemical-resistant work surface. I am compromising pretty for pure function.

My lab-bench is another compromise. At one point I acquired some industrial steel shelving, rated to hold something like 400kg. These can be assembled in various shapes, including a bench-height configuration. I bolted three of these benches together rather than building or buying cabinetry. It is not precisely pretty, but it works. I can also remove and relocate the entire bench quickly, although I have no reason to do so at this time. The downside is there are no cabinet doors to protect what is stored on otherwise open shelves; more on that in a moment.

Leveling the bench in the garage was not difficult. Most garage concrete-slab floors have a gentle slope so fluids drain out of the garage (like a water dripping off a wet car, which happens a lot in the Pacific North West). Conveniently, the foundation wall of the garage is level and has a three-inch lip on the inside of the garage wall along the floor. Richard and I perched my bench on the concrete lip, helpfully leveling the far side of the bench, and attached the metal frame to the garage wall. We shimmed the front legs to level the near side and then extended the front legs with some scrap wood. We finish it off by attaching three panels of melamine to the top, leaving a slight overlap on the front edge.

A trip to the discount store supplied the plastic tubs and drawer sets for storage, my compromise for cabinetry. I unpacked the lab equipment and glassware last night into the bins, with room to spare. I have some minor storage issues still to work out, like where to keep the 50ml glass burette. The pipettes fit into the drawers well enough for now, but the burette is too long. At the moment I have it clamped on the ring stand. I would like to find a suitable way to protect everything from dust and mishap, so leaving the burette on the stand is not ideal. The thermometer comes in a nice triangular clear plastic tube. A source for similar plastic tubes would be ideal. It protects the glassware from damage and dust, does not roll and can be stored in a larger, sturdier cylinder either standing upright or on its side.

I still have extra bins and drawers for chemical storage. The draws are basically bins in plastic frames; no holes in the sides or bottoms of the drawers. This is great to capture any inadvertent leaks if I store stock here. I will spend some time this week sorting out what should go where. (Kaitlin likes to help with this too. She already stocked one drawer with our lab notebooks and a supply of pens and pencils.) I have a large lidded tub and space on the garage floor under the bench for bulk storage which I have not utilized yet. It is a bit cramped, but not hideously so.

Temperature is a minor issue. Snoqualmie, 25 miles east of Seattle, has a maritime climate. Not too hot, not too cold. We get cold spells in the winter below freezing for a week or more. I plan on storing some items in bins I can bring into the house and store in the pantry during the winter. If I do lab work in the winter, I do have a space heater and halogen work lights to help warm the area, but that may not be a good mix if there are fumes and odors and I cannot open the garage door for ventilation. Winter may be the off-season. Not that Karen would complain too much about that. Such is life.

Lastly, I am trying to keep in consideration having a couple kids working with me (there are two interested at the moment, in addition to Kaitlin). Counter space is limited, but one advantage using the garage is that I can move the car to the driveway. I have several folding chairs and tables in the garage, easily accessible, making for an instant classroom or extended work area.

The lab is ready to start working in and working it will identify and address remaining, some perpetual, issues. Conducting experiments in the future will likely create new issues, requiring new equipment, time and new supplies too. I look forward to the challenge. I need to start through the labs. At the moment time is an issue. I have martial arts practice and teaching several times a week in addition to my ‘paying’ job to work around and I need to create a schedule Karen and Kaitlin will be happy with. Patience is the key. Equipment is not the only recurring issue; time and family are more important and perpetual. Progress sometimes comes in inches.

Pictures
My workbench
 

Drawers of equipment and glassware

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chemistry | Martial Arts | Personal

A Screed on Autism, ADHD and the Martial Arts

by Terry 7/25/2008 3:56:00 PM

I posted a short screed on Autism, ADHD and the Martial Arts. It really is just a rant of my opinion and observations. Some people may disagree. All I can really argue is if you have doubts or concerns about having an autistic or ADHD child try martial arts – do not let your doubts prevent trying martial arts. Whether or not the child can keep up is not the issue. They may take longer to reach proficiency in some areas, but the benefits on self esteem, self control and long term mental and physical health are tremendous.

I won’t argue there are extreme cases. And those are just heart wrenching in there is often little anyone can really do. Or rather much that can be done but little to heal the grief and pain. And if this is the condition you face, I am not professing any miracle. But, I am not arguing for the extreme cases, only the cases that are quickly called autistic or ADHD which 30 years ago would have been considered high-energy or short-attention children. I was once one of those.

I was seriously failing school until I figured out I could manipulate the system to alter my curriculum to make it interesting. I had a GPA of 2.4 as high-school freshmen and turned that into a 3.5 GPA by the time I graduated. I earned my BSCS with honors and a 3.9 GPA. In elementary school the teachers wanted me in the remedial programs, where I simple got bored. I required too much effort to stay interested in what was being taught. I learned from that and use that knowledge now. I try to keep kids interested in what they are doing.

I am trying to figure out how to do that with science. I am on track to starting a science club by end of summer. I want kids to see the fun in science. The sciences (and, frankly, reading science fiction by authors like Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven) are what drove me to succeed in school. I have the same passion for martial arts. I just ordered Kono Magazine for Kaitlin with keeping here interested in the martial arts as the primary reason (Roland Osborne is enacting the same idea with Kono Magazine, http://www.konomag.com/Kono_AboutUs.pdf). I will use my garage chemistry lab to keep her interests in science alive as best I can too.

Hmm, that was a lot more than I expected to rant on about.

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chemistry | Martial Arts | Personal

Rooto Household Products

by Terry 7/18/2008 10:18:00 AM

Yesterday I went to lunch with Karen and Kaitlin. I stopped at the pharmacy to ask if I could order various supplies for my home chemistry lab through them. After lunch I ran down the block to the Carmichael’s True Value hardware store. There I found several products I wanted to add to my lab.  Ammonia (with no coloring or other additives) and 100% sodium hydroxide drain cleaner. I forgot to look for root killer (copper sulphate) which I believe they carry. Oddly, Home Depot and Lowes, the nearby big-box stores, do not seem to have these products in concentrated or mostly pure form. I will have to go back and get the copper sulphate at a later date.

True Value sells products from Rooto. I called Rooto to see if they had MSDS files for these products. They happily said yes and asked where they could fax them. I never bothered to setup a fax receiver on my home PC, email is my preferred method. No problem, for the products I am looking for, they have electronic MSDS documents. Apparently not all their line is available in electronic format, but they have what I need. All is good.

The home chemistry lab is slowly moving along.

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chemistry | Personal

Stocking my Lab

by Terry 6/25/2008 3:43:00 PM

This morning I ordered the remaining basic supplies I need for my lab. I called Elemental Scientific and placed my order for the glassware and equipment kits; goggles; apron and gloves. Yesterday I ordered the iBalance Lab Scale through Amazon. I expect both orders to arrive next week.

Elemental Scientific is very accommodating and friendly, and I look forward to continuing to order from them. In a few months time, when I get closer to the final labs and chapters in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, I will order the Advanced Chemical Kit from Elemental Scientific, I will likely bundle in some additional hazardous chemicals with the package, if the combinations are allowed for shipping.

The scale shipped today from Texas via FedEx and is due to arrive next Tuesday. Not bad for $8.67 in shipping, and I did not need to leave my office chair.

Shipping costs are sometime steep, but I have to balance it against local sales-tax and fuel costs if I purchase items locally. Seattle is a 30 mile drive, so I try to economize my trips into the city. A shipping charge of $8 is less than the cost of gas to drive into Seattle. If I order a $100 package, an additional $20 in shipping is about a wash if I have to drive to purchase locally with gas and tax adding about $18.

I am also trying to keep costs in mind for anyone who plans to share my lab in the ‘Science Club’. I still plan to front most of the costs myself (I own the glassware, for example). Some items like the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, lab notebook, goggles, gloves and protective clothing will be required by each individual. I see that being less than $50 at the moment, with the book being the largest share of that expense. As I go through labs, I will track what I consume and calculate that cost as well.

Karen and I are still deciding on our weekend plans. If we stay home I will spend most of the time doing yard work, and maybe an hour or two in the garage to finish the counter and shelving around my workbench. I see a trip to the hardware store either way.

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amazon | chemistry | Personal

Meeting the Fire Chief

by Terry 6/23/2008 10:54:00 AM

Last Friday I received the Standard Chemical Kit from Elemental Scientific Karen ordered for me for Father’s Day. Naturally, I could not wait to open the box, and neither could Kaitlin. So, together, we unpacked all the chemicals and started to sort them out on the counter in the garage. I showed Kaitlin the color coding on the bottles and explained what they mean and she help me sort them properly into groups. While unpacking, I reviewed the “rules” with Kaitlin. These, like all chemicals, need to be treated with respect, she is not use them without me present, and so on. Now I have to address proper storage for the long term.

Friday afternoon I took Kaitlin to a birthday party. Karen was out for the evening, so I took the opportunity to ride my bicycle down to the fire station. (It is very much ‘down’, about two miles away and a 300 ft drop in elevation. The ride back up the hill was a good workout in the hot sun.) Karen really wanted me to make sure that if anyone were to ‘report’ me to the authorities that I had that base covered now, and I agree.

I talked to a couple firemen and the fire chief about what I was doing and if they had any concerns. I did not expect them to have any. If anything, they were encouraging and supportive. Their recommendations are, as I planned already to do:

  • Keep the MSDS printouts handy
  • Have at least one dry-chemical fire extinguisher on hand, within arms-reach of the garage door going into the house
  • Keep the supplies stored properly
  • Call them if I ever planned to have a large stock of any given chemicals

One fireman offered me his excess supply of Muriatic Acid. Before I could respond, one of the other firemen said he would use it for his pool, which was good by me. I am not looking for used stock of unknown origins. I left feeling I gained their trust by including them in what I am doing, which is what I set out to do. Based on their comments, like, “It’s the people who are not telling us what they have in their garage that worry us more”, that make me feel the fire fighters feel about the same as I do. We would rather have the devil we know knock on the door.

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chemistry | Personal | Snoqualmie

The legal Considerations of Starting a Science Club

by Terry 6/17/2008 2:40:00 PM

Karen is concerned, and rightly so, about liability and safety issues we would be at risk of building and maintaining a chemistry lab in our garage and starting a science club for a few local teens. Personally, I am of the mind that this is my own business, what I do in my house is my business, and not of concern to anyone else. I think if a lab in my house were strictly for me alone, there would be little issue, except with proper and legal storage and disposal of the chemicals. But I am not limiting a lab to just myself, so I do need to look at the problem more closely.

So I did a little research. I found the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) website to have some good information. In Washington, this is the state department which regulates the cleanup of Meth labs and sets the environmental health and safety standards for schools. I found nothing on home chemistry in the state laws, but then I won’t claim I know how to do an exhaustive search in that arena.

The DOH School Environmental Health and Safety Program has a Student Health and Safety Guide. I downloaded the 460 page document and started to scan through it. The section on Safety and the Law jump out at me. It states:

Safety and the Law

  1. Risk of suit is often greatly exaggerated in your minds; however, it is ever present.
  2. We will show you that there is more protection for you than you think. Fear of litigation should NOT restrict effective, safe teaching and learning. Participatory activities should remain interesting and exploratory. They should not become sterile and ineffective.
  3. We cannot insulate ourselves from danger at any time in our lives. This program is to teach you RESPONSIBILITY and forethought.
  4. We hope to make safety in the lab a HABIT in your teaching career.
  5. We believe that knowledge is the key to any potential problems.
  6. The law requires adherence to regulations and requirements (see “negligence” on next page). THIS IS WHAT GOOD SAFETY IS ALL ABOUT.

(Excerpt from the Safety Guide for Career and technical Education, page 18, Washington State Department of Health)

I cannot argue with what is written there. In the sections following ‘Safety and the Law’ are sections called ‘The Law Defined’ and ‘Safety Forms’. The Law Defined section could be summarized as get your CYA documentation and don’t be negligent. The safety forms include things like parent permission, various acknowledgements, medical treatment consent and safety training logs. I am thinking I will use these, as much as some of it grates on my inner-libertarian to do so. Some of the logs will be useful to record what lab sessions have been covered and by who, which will help to avoid confusion.

I will also make a trip down to the local fire station and talk to the station personnel. I would much rather befriend the local authorities and make them aware of who I am and what I am doing. This is more of an effort to avoid overreaction if anything were to happen. Again, it grates on my inner-libertarian, yet I would rather have the devil I know at my door than the one I don’t.

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chemistry | Personal | Snoqualmie

My-Weigh iBalance 201 balance

by Terry 5/23/2008 10:09:00 AM

On a whim I checked Amazon. The My-Weigh iBalance 201 balance is offered for about 99.00.

Mr. Thompson created a forum, http://forums.homechemlab.com, as a companion to the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (DIY Science). I noted the balance on the forum and I hope other people contribute to the Home Chem Lab forum over time too. I think it is a great adjunct to Mr. Thompson’s book and resource for amateurs like me.

I also added this item to my own storefront. My storefront is an ongoing experiment.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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