Ok, I’ll admit it. I have developed a huge interest in science recently, most likely as a result of watching too many reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Actually, it has always been there, but I must admit that the antics of those “science dudes” has made being a nerd a cool thing these days. The only problem is, I am much closer to the comic-book store owner than to the theoretical physicists in the show. So how do I turn an interest in science into some real world fun? The new Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (DIY Science) is the key.
Authors Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson have created a series of forensic experiments that are relatively easy, and highly rewarding. I guess there are all sorts of uses for this type of material, but for me it was just for fun. For example, although I had never really thought about this before, the authors report that “U.S. currency notes contain an average of 2.9 to 28.8 micrograms of cocaine, depending on the denomination, age, and location.”
So does that well-used $20 bill I got from the grocery store the other day actually have traces of cocaine on it? By using the very simple test spelled out in the Guide, I discovered that it actually did. A tiny amount to be sure, but enough to be picked up in this kitchen-table experiment. The book is filled with interesting tips for the amateur scientist. I found the one regarding the reason so-called “paper” money retains these traces so well to be intriguing. The authors explain that the material U.S. currency is printed on is actually closer to fabric, rather than paper. This makes money a much more adhesive medium than something like a sheet of notebook paper.
The “Paper Currency” test is but one of over 50 lab sessions involving biology, chemistry, and physics. The book offers advice for setting up an inexpensive home lab, and each experiment includes a complete list of equipment and chemicals you will need for each session. Although some of the compounds (such as sulfuric acid) must be handled with care, these experiments are not “dangerous.”
That is to say, you will not blow up your house trying any of them. There is quite a bit of fun to be had here though, and a great deal of understanding of how things work to be gained by working through this book. The Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments is do it yourself science at a very basic level, and recommended for all nerds in training.