Robert Bruce Thompson

Sebastopol, Ca: O'Reilly Media / Make 2008 | Pp432 | £22.99 | ISBN 978 0 596 51492 1

Reviewed by Adrian Guy

Cover of Illustrated guide to home chemistry experiments

As an illustrated guide to home chemistry experiments I suspect that the target audience is limited because the effort, time and expense required to set up a suitably equipped home laboratory for these experiments would be immense - even for the most patient and dedicated of amateur chemists. But if this is you, then this book is well worth the money, and provides a 'belt and braces' approach to home experiments where no detail is overlooked and where accuracy and effective working practices are paramount. 

The second and probably more common use of this text would be as a reference for school science teachers - including non-specialist teachers - technicians and students. There are many and varied practicals, all of which are relatively simple to reproduce and will afford useful conclusions. A selection of classic experiments, which may not be the most inspiring, are well thought through and of educational benefit.

The book also includes some interesting methods, such as the electrolysis of water using magnesium sulfate as an inert electrolyte: a 9 V battery is used as the power source and, once submerged, the electrical terminals of the battery act as the electrodes so that the gases evolved can be collected directly above the battery terminals for testing. 

Most of the experiments do not require much, if any, specialist equipment. Experiments such as Sherlock Holmes' test to identify samples of dried blood, and the intriguing presumptive tests for detecting illicit substances discussed in Forensic chemistry could be used for school chemistry clubs. 

This is not a book one would read for entertainment or for theory-based explanations, but a useful book to help with planning and doing many interesting practicals in the classroom.