Reimagining the Chemistry Kit for the 21st Century
2014 SPARK Competition
The 2014 Science Play and Research Kit (SPARK) Competition challenged participants to reimagine the chemistry set for the 21st century to generate a new set of experiences and activities that spark imagination and sustained interest in science and technology. In collaboration with the Society for Science & the Public, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation used the competition to elicit creative ideas from a broad array of communities.
We were inspired by Gordon Moore’s joyful recollection of the importance of his childhood chemistry set for igniting his early passion for science. Like Gordon, many scientists and innovators of earlier generations attribute their career pursuit and lifelong engagement in science to the early experiences they had playing with the chemistry set. The classic chemistry kit – with the plethora of chemicals and some basic but powerful scientific tools – encouraged previous generations to explore and discover through play and experimentation; they learned by doing, they learned through play.
Of course, the chemistry set wasn’t the only experience that provided entry to the world of science. Children got hooked on science through opening up and exploring the circuitry inside discarded electronics. They took apart clocks to figure out how inner gears enabled telling time. They turned over rocks to explore what lived beneath and studied patterns of ant trails. These sorts of experiences—both organized and serendipitous—take advantage of children’s propensity to play and to ask questions and allow them to tinker, puzzle, and revel in the messiness of exploration. Whether kids call these explorations science, or whether they view them as just messing around, isn’t important.
Classic chemistry sets are no longer available, as many of the chemicals that resulted in the most interesting combinations are now illegal, and many of these other experiences are hard to come by. This competition sought to address this gap, and highlight the importance of these formative science experiences.
We believe that children’s inherent curiosity can inspire and motivate them to learn more about the world around them, and that sometimes they just need the invitation and some tools to deepen that driving curiosity. Our competition sought to reimagine the chemistry set, to generate a new set of invitations for children to engage in rich, unscripted exploration and tinkering that could open possible worlds of science and technology.
The competition winners have developed prototypes and ideas that will inspire today’s children: an actual chemistry set that uses advanced microfluidics technology to safely and cheaply perform experiments; a toy set that shows kids how their bodies produce electrical signals and opens up the space of neuroscience as an area for children to explore and play; an exploration kit that uses electronic sensors to let kids experiment with physics, environmental energy, biology, chemistry and engineering design; a set of craft-based, “making” kits, which helps girls and boys explore science concepts while trying creative and fun applications; and so much more.
We extend our congratulations and profound thanks not just to the winners, but to all of the entrants in the SPARK Competition for their inspiring ideas and creations.
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