Chemistry, and science in general, fascinated boys like me back in the sixties. If it fizzled, changed colour, or made smoke: I loved it. Though my best marks weren’t in science, I adored that subject.
Knowing this, my Mom bought me a chemistry set for my fifteenth birthday. Though I was thrilled with the present, the first experiment disappointed me. All the manual said to do was to measure and dissolve a certain amount of copper sulphate in a test tube filled half way with water. According to the instructions, a person was supposed to do only one experiment per day. Chafing at that restriction, I continued to the next experiment.
I learned many fascinating things from that present. It taught me how chemicals reacted to each other and why they did so. I also learned that some chemicals contained water. For example, copper sulphate became copper sulphide when heated. Once water touched that white powder, it turned back to its sky blue colour.
Some chemicals also changed the colour of fire. I had endless fun, or so it seemed, placing powder on the measuring spoon and holding it in the blue alcohol flame of the Bunsen burner.
Additionally, I learned the hard way that sulphur makes toxic smoke when burned. It also turns into a hard, black substance afterward.
The experiment with the strip of magnesium taught me that some metals burn with a brilliant white light. Heeding the manual’s warning, I didn’t look directly at the flame. This was because it emitted harmful ultraviolet light. Even so, I gawked in amazement at how it lit up the kitchen like a hundred watt light bulb. According to the explanation in the book, divers use magnesium flares underwater during night dives. The oxidized magnesium is also the key ingredient in Milk of Magnesia.