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Chemistry set.

June 20, 2016

“Tell us a story, grandpa,” Beatrice asked.

Mother used to get chemistry set stuff for me.  You know, test tubes, chemicals.  Even poisonous chemicals that you could order special, such as mercuric chloride and lead sulfide.  I had gotten sodium dichromate from a professor at the university.

Well, I used to put all of my chemistry set into a box and take it to school for show-and-tell that we had every day.  I was always getting new stuff.  I got a metal ring stand and a tripod.  Best of all, for my birthday, I got an all-glass distillation set which had a 19-inch tube with a second, larger tube that contained the first one to act as a cooling water jacket.  The glass water jacket fit over the glass tube and had a screw cap at each end with a hole and a rubber seal.  The water jacket also had a glass nipple at each end to attach a piece of rubber hose.  I fastened all of this stuff to the ring stand, somehow, with rubber bands.

I got the hoses for this setup from the university chemistry department.  I went there almost every day and asked the students and teachers for old equipment they weren’t using.  If they weren’t there after hours to give it to me, sometimes I’d go in and take it, if nobody was using it.

You have to understand that my father died when I was a small boy.  I really had only mother, my books, and my  imagination to use to set up my chemistry experiments.

The distillation apparatuUM Library 1960s allowed me to distill water.  In fact, that was my science fair experiment:  “The distillation of water.”  I wanted to give my project some appeal, so I added a whole bunch of chemicals to the water I wanted to distill.  I put a sample of each chemical into the water, and wrote the chemical formula of each in a long row.

I copied the formulas from the bottles the chemicals came in.  Such as sodium bisulfate:  NaHSO4, and calcium carbonate: CaCO3, and sodium dichromate: NaCrO3.  I’m guessing at the chemical formulas here.  Point is, I listed them all on a piece of paper to impress my teacher, who didn’t know much about chemistry: NaHSO4CaCO3NaCrO3, like that.

Once I got all of this stuff into the water, my water looked a lot like orange mud.  I thought this will be all the more interesting to distill.  I had a florence flask with a rubber stopper and a glass tube coming out.  I used a short piece of rubber hose to attach the flask to the distillation apparatus.

So that was my science fair project that I put in the back of our fifth grade classroom.  Only when I lit my alcohol burner under the flask to distill the orange mud it heated up and squirted through the distillation apparatus all over the place, making a big mess.  I eventually cleaned the long tube of the orange crud with a stick.  A sprout, really, from the lilac hedge in our backyard.


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