Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Product review: MEL Chemistry set

The MEL Chemistry starter kit
I recently saw the MEL Chemistry set and I decided that I wanted to try it out, so I contacted MEL via Twitter and asked if they could send me a few sets. A week or two later, a big box arrived. Needless to say, my kids were pretty excited.

It's a really interesting idea; you get a full set of chemistry glassware, including lab glasses (reasonably comfortable, if I do say so myself), a small Erlenmeyer, a small beaker, a 60 mL syringe and seriously detailed chemistry/safety manual.

I also received 5 sets of experiments:
As a parent who is a scientist, I think we've received all the different "chemistry at home" kits out there. They are all uniformly mediocre. Sadly, I'll point out here that the most remarkable thing about the Magic School Bus chemistry kit is that it's shaped like a school bus - other than that, it's got the same mix of weak acid, weak base and plastic test tubes as the rest of the lot.*

The experiment kits
Not so for the MEL Chemistry kits. Over the course of three weeks, I tried these out with my kids. I liked them; they are small (5 mL or so), so there's not a lot of waste generated during the experiment. There is enough to try again (we didn't get the zinc-carbon battery to work the first time, so we're gonna loop around to that one again.) My older child really enjoyed (as do most kids, I suspect) the pH indicator lab. The making of tin dendrites with tin chloride and a battery was pretty cool, we all thought, and we brought a good bit of consternation and fun to the house when we decided to light a mix of sugar, baking soda and hexamine powder to make a "sugar snake." (The smoke cleared pretty quickly, and I did not manage to burn the house down.) You're not gonna find this stuff at Target. 

I didn't get to try out the app that goes with the kits, nor the virtual reality glasses, unfortunately. (Someday, a smartphone to call my own.) 

I have two caveats that I have about the MEL Chemistry kits: first, these kits are prominently labeled with a "12+" label. While I could quibble with the age limit, I have to say that there are enough materials to cause some amount of consternation (potassium permanganate, iodine solution, hexamine) that younger children most certainly should not be unsupervised around these sets, which is not something you'd say about typical store-bought chemistry kits. 

Oxidizing away ink with potassium permanganate
The other thing to note is that the kits are pretty pricey: it's ~$40 for the starter kit, and then another $36 per month for the 3 experiments a month that you can receive. You gotta have a kid who really likes science, I'd imagine, for that to pencil out.  

Overall, I'd give a strong recommendation for the MEL chemistry kits for older kids who are getting bored with the boring chemistry kits and want to give a shot at something a little more advanced. "I thought this was a lot cooler than the other kits," my older child said - and I agree. 

*OK, so the idea that the Magic School Bus kit has that you should learn these skills first (observation, notebook skills, etc) before doing experiments is probably valuable. The rest of it is pretty ho-hum.

Apart from receiving the kit, Chemjobber received no compensation for this review. 


  1. Thanks for this. I think a big old-fart kid like me is going to order these just to see the kind of cool (and presumably safe) demos I can do at the community college I teach at.

    Feel free to keep doing product reviews....

  2. The oscillating reaction kit is a pretty reasonable way to do the Briggs-Rauscher reaction at home. My kid loves this (7 years old). The color changes are unexpected and dramatic. You have to buy fresh peroxide every time you use it, though, and I don't let him use it unsupervised. You have to read the instructions pretty carefully, but the results are outstanding.

  3. Interesting stuff. I hadn't heard of the company but it reminded me of a Kickstarter from last year--and it looks as though there have been several recently to raise funds for Lab boxes.

    At least a couple are specifically aimed at the getting-girls-into-STEM market:
    by a couple of women who are undergrads or recent grads themselves. Conversely a recent pitch by a pharma chemist appears to have come up snake eyes, unfortunately.

    I expected the successful ones to eventually come on the market so ... still waiting? CJ, you may want to reach out for more demo models if you're interested.

  4. The documentation shown on the MEL Science web site seems accurate and thorough. I wonder if the experiments can be explained to children by parents who are are not scientists.

  5. I received my complimentary kits yesterday, and will do my own review over the course of the next couple of weeks, ultimately appearing on my blog. Hopefully, as an educator, I can bring another perspective. I enjoyed your comments.

  6. Thanks for this! I just heard about the set on NPR and was wondering about it for Christmas.

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