Amateur chemistry

Amateur chemistry

Amateur chemistry or home chemistry is the pursuit of chemistry as a private hobby.cite news |last = Silberman |first = Steve |title = Don't Try This at Home |publisher = Wired Magazine |date = 2006-07 |url = |accessdate = 2008-07-18 ] It should not be confused with clandestine chemistry, which involves the illicit production of controlled drugs.Ref_label|a|a|none Notable amateur chemists include Oliver Sacks and Sir Edward Elgar.Cite book |title = Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood |last = Sacks |first = Oliver |publisher = Vintage Books |isbn = 0-375-40448-1] cite journal |url= |title=Shaws’s Musician: Edward Elgar |last=Weintraub |first=Stanley |journal=Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies (Requires subscription) |accessdate=2008-07-21]



Amateur chemistry shares its early history with that of chemistry in general. Pioneers of modern chemistry such as Robert Boyle and Antoine Lavoisier were gentleman scientists who pursued their research independently from their source of income.cite book |title=Four Centuries of Clinical Chemistry |last=Rosenfeld |first=Louis |year = 1999| publisher=Taylor and Francis |isbn=9056996452] Citation |title=University of Wisconsin - General Chemistry - The Law of Conservation of Mass |url= |accessdate=2008-07-19] Only with the coming of the industrial era, and the rise of universities as research institutions, did any significant distinction between amateurs and professionals emerge.Nevertheless, amateur progress lasted well into the 19th century. For example, in 1886, Charles Martin Hall co-invented the Hall-Héroult process for extracting aluminium from its oxide whilst working in a woodshed behind his family home.cite book |last=Emsley |first=John |title=Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements |year=2001 |id=ISBN 0-19-850341-5 |pages=pp. 451 – 53 |publisher=Oxford University Press]

Chemistry as a hobby

Throughout much of the 20th century, amateur chemistry was an unexceptional hobby, with high-quality chemistry sets readily available, and laboratory suppliers freely selling to hobbyists. For example, Linus Pauling had no difficulty in procuring potassium cyanide at the age of eleven. However, due to increasing concerns about terrorism, drugs and safety, suppliers became increasingly reluctant to sell to amateurs, and chemistry sets were steadily toned down.Citation |last = Fuscaldo |first = Donna |title = The Grinch Who Stole the Chemistry Set |publisher = FOX Business |date = 2007-12-11 |url = |accessdate = 2008-07-19] This trend has gradually continued, leaving hobbyists in many parts of the world without access to most reagents.

Notable amateur chemists

* Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard all used to practice amateur chemistry.
* British Neurologist Oliver Sacks was a keen amateur chemist in his youth, as described in his memoir .
* Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling practised amateur chemistry in his youth. cite book |last=Goertzel |year=1995 |title=Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics |publisher=Basic Books |isbn=0465006728]
* Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray is a keen amateur chemist and element collector.Citation |title=Theodore Gray's website| url= |accessdate=2008-07-18] His exploits (most notably the construction of a wooden table in the shape of the periodic table, having compartments holding real samples of each element) earned him the 2002 Ig Nobel prize for chemistry,Citation |url= |title=Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize |accessdate=2008-07-18] which he accepted as a great honor.Citation |url= |title=Theodore Gray's website: 2002 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry |accessdate=2008-07-18] He writes a column for Popular Science magazine, featuring his home experiments.Citation |url= |title=Popular Science: Gray Matter column |accessdate=2008-07-18]
* Amateur rocketeer (and later NASA engineer) Homer Hickham, together with his fellow Rocket Boys, experimented with a range of home-made rocket propellants. These included "Rocket Candy" made from potassium nitrate and sugar, and "Zincoshine" made from zinc and sulfur held together with moonshine alcohol.cite book |title=Rocket Boys: A Memoir |first=Homer |last=Hickam |publisher =Delacorte Press |year=1998 |isbn=0-385-33320-X]
* Composer Sir Edward Elgar practised amateur chemistry from a laboratory erected in his back garden. The original manuscript of the prelude to The Kingdom is stained with chemicals.Citation |title = Sir Edward William Elgar; Amateur Chemist-Composer |url = |accessdate = 2008-08-10]


Whilst the hobby is probably legal in most jurisdictions,Ref_label|b|b|none the relationship between amateur chemists and law enforcement agencies is often fraught. Hobbyists are often affected by laws intended to fight drugs and terrorism. Furthermore, many chemical supply houses refuse to sell to amateurs, with such policies sometimes being stated openly.Citation |url= |title=Timstar Laboratory Suppliers Ltd: Ordering information |accessdate=2008-07-18] Citation |url= |title=Stratlab Web Shop - Laboratory Supplies - Chemicals and reagents |accessdate=2008-08-10]


In Canada, a wide range of basic laboratory reagents such as nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide are restricted as "explosives precursors".Citation |title = Natural Resources Canada: New Regulations Tighten Controls on Restricted Chemicals |url = |publisher = Marketwire |date = 2008-05-19 |accessdate = 2008-08-08]


German amateur chemists have been raided by the police, despite not being in the possession of illegal chemicals.Citation |last=Winsemann |first=Bettina |url= |title=Von Chemikalien, Aquarianern, Sprengstoffen und Drogen |language = German |publisher=Telepolis |date=2008-08-02 |accessdate=2008-08-08] Citation |last=Winsemann |first=Bettina |url= |title=Terrorfahndung in Kinderzimmern] |publisher=Telepolis |language = German |date=2008-12-21 |accessdate=2008-08-08]

United States

In the United States, some regions have stringent regulations concerning the ownership of chemicals and equipment. For example Texas requires the registration of even the most basic laboratory glassware.Citation |title = Texas Administrative Code: Title 37, Public Safety And Corrections; Part 1, Texas Department Of Public Safety; Chapter 13, Controlled Substances; Subchapter E, Precursors And Apparatus |url =$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=5&ti=37&pt=1&ch=13&sch=E&rl=Y |accessdate = 2008-07-19]

United Nuclear, an amateur science supplier based in New Mexico was raided on behest of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and subsequently fined $7,500 for "Selling Illegal Fireworks Components".cite press release |title = New Mexico Company Fined, Ordered To Stop Selling Illegal Fireworks Components |publisher = Consumer Product Safety Commission |date = 2007-07-20 |url = |accessdate = 2006-07-18]


*a. Note_label|a|a|none The terms "amateur chemistry" and "clandestine chemistry" are not rigidly defined, and may depend upon context. For clarity, this article defines "amateur chemistry" to be the practice of chemistry as a hobby, and not as the means to an illegal end.
*b. Note_label|b|b|none The legal status of amateur chemistry "per se" is somewhat ambiguous. Whilst there appears to be no legislation explicitly banning the activity, there is also little evidence to confirm its legality.


See also

* List of commonly available chemicals

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