Don’t Try This at Home: Theo Gray’s Mad Science

Geek Culture

MadsciencebookcoverMadsciencebookcover Theodore Gray has been mentioned here before. Gray is the co-founder of Wolfram Research, creators of the technical software system Mathematica. In 2002 he won the Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry for his Periodic Table Table, an actual table with little compartments for samples of all the elements. (At the request of his officemates, he moved the radioactive stuff to a lead-glass display cabinet.) His amazing 3D photographic periodic table poster hangs in schools, museums, dorm rooms and the set of Mythbusters.  And, like all good dilettantes, he likes to try experiments that chemists in a “real” laboratory would probably never do. He writes about the results in a column for Popular Science magazine called “Gray Matter.”

Now Gray has collected his columns in an oversized, lovingly-produced volume called Theo Gray’s Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home – But Probably Shouldn’t.  The book contains the incredible dramatic photographs created by Gray and top photographers for the original magazine column. But, as he pointed out in an email, Mad Science has also got something else other DIY science type books usually lack:

The other thing about this book is that, unlike the wildly successful "Dangerous Book for Boys", it contains actual danger.  Some of the experiments are pretty out there, but I think it’s useful and important to show people that science is not all about baking soda and vinegar.  Sometimes it’s a about molten sodium and chlorine gas.

Theograyburningmetal3bTheograyburningmetal3b I suppose it could be argued that giving your kid Mad Science to read might nudge you into the Bad Dad category.  But despite the warnings – and the fact that many of the how-tos are not detailed enough to follow at home – many of Gray’s projects can be done safely with younguns around. Gray actually enlists the help of his children Addie, Connor and Emma in several experiments. I’ve even done a version of Gray’s “making hydrogen” experiment with my kids — and I have no chemistry expertise whatsoever

You can see excerpts of Mad Science, plus videos of some of the experiments being photographed, on Gray’s website.  You can also order signed copies directly from the author. (And if you want to see why you should always wear safety glasses when working with chemicals, read about the demonstration Gray set up for the “safety warning” section of the book — not safe for home if your daughter likes Barbie…)

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