It’s a catchy title, isn’t it? Somewhere between that and the full-page advertisement in the New Scientist, I was persuaded to buy the book How to Fossilize your Hamster: And Other Amazing Experiments for the Armchair Scientist by Mick O’Hare last week. The ad claimed that along with the title activity, the book contained a cornucopia of household scientific experiments, such as extracting the iron from your breakfast cereal and measuring the speed of light using only a microwave and a chocolate bar.
I couldn’t wait to learn how to fossilize my hypothetical hamster. When the mailman delivered the package, I ripped open the box, flipped to the hamster page, started reading, and by the end of p.171 was disappointed. When describing what you will see in your hamster experiment, O’Hare writes, “Not Much. Fossils take tens of thousands of years to form, but you will be saving up enjoyment for future generations of paleontologists.”
What a rip off! Sure, I know fossils take a really, really, really long time to form. (There was actually a recent rediscovery of a four-million-year-old fossilized rodent.) I was just hoping that this was some sort of euphemism for a more rapid process, especially since the titles of his experiments are full of fun wordplay like: “Banana Armor” (you delve into why banana skins turn brown), “Head Trauma” (find out exactly how much your head weighs), and “Sticky Solution” (why molasses can be used to remove rust).
Despite my initial disappointment, I enjoyed reading the book. There are some of the good old kitchen experiment standbys (baking soda and vinegar go boom) as well as some new ones I had never heard before (turning fried eggs green using cabbage juice). Overall, O’Hare’s writing is very clear and the explanations of the chemical and physical reactions producing these results are great. However, at times the more physical experiments, like why hot water freezes faster than cold water, do get bogged down in boring expository. But who can really blame him? It’s tough to make that interesting.
And while many of the activities are rated PG, there are several fun-with-alcohol experiments for the legal adults. Now I know why salted peanuts float in cheap beer, how wine legs are formed, and why James Bond’s martinis differ in taste from the standard.
Thanks to this book, the next time I’m at a diner trying to extract ketchup from the bottle, I will have six new methods to choose from. I can’t wait, even though most of them will make me look incredibly silly!
Learn about more DIY science projects at the Toy Fair 2007