I get it. I have purchased a lab piecemeal, and every piece we invest in here at Insanitek makes me cringe. The price tag can be more than a bit stressful. But there is a secret in science that most people don’t know:
Much of what we use is often cobbled together or have a secondary use.
Seriously, I used regular kitchen spoons for scoops in grad school. It helped that they were much more effective at scooping than the other options. As an undergrad I cobbled together a vacuum system out of stuff you can find at a hardware store. It worked beautifully.
Really, the only gear I’ve ever had to use that we couldn’t outsource, rent, or find a secondary (or more) functions for are some of the super specialised chemicals.
And frankly, you won’t need those in a homeschool lab. If you do, you should totally be searching for a job in a research field. (See us for independent options.) The fact that there are no unitaskers in a lab makes it even more logical to invest in your lab.
But the other reason? A quality, well rounded education. Science is more than just facts. It allows for exploration of the world around us, practice in the use of logic, math, and even arts. It gives us all a chance to communicate different things about our world in both depth and breadth.
Yeah, this is a broad, sweeping statement, but bear with me on this. Let’s break down logic and creativity first because it applies to finding lab gear.
Let’s say the directions in a kit say you need a beaker, but you don’t have one. Ask yourself: What function does this beaker need to serve?
If the answer is something along the lines of boil the reagent and be easy to pour, then you can probably substitute in any glass measuring cup. If the answer is a place to collect ingredients to stir, then you could probably also use a measuring cup.
Let’s take that analysis a step further. Can you use any glass? What about a plastic container with a pour spout? Use logic and ask about the solutions you’re mixing. What will they react with? If nothing, then plastic may work. If there is a chance for etching, use glass.
I can’t tell you how many times I reach into the engineering supplies ─ and I’m a chemist. I had to make a shaker bed the other day because I was NOT going to spend hundreds of dollars on a device to shake samples. And, I wasn’t going to shake samples for 30+ minutes at a time to break up samples. So, I broke out some mechanical engineering skills and combined them with some rudimentary electronics skill to make a rather ugly shaker bed.
The more you learn, the more you can make. The more you make, the more you practise other specialties, such as math and electronics. The more you practise, the more you create art.
(If I tried, I probably could have made my shaker bed look a bit better, but I was rushed. There was delicious homemade Chinese food calling my name.)
See! Chances to use logic and explore the world and create art while being a scientist. That is well worth the effort to look into and investing in a homeschool lab. Thankfully you probably don’t need much to do so. Here are the things that we recommend investing in. (And yes, all of them are multitaskers.)
- Hotplate with mixing.
- Graduated cylinders
- Erlenmeyer’s flask.
- A good microscope.
- A scale (a kitchen scale will do for most things)
Our top source for supplies is Herschel Goldstein at Papamed4 on Ebay. However, you can also find places to rent supplies or even a lab just by calling around to your local labs and universities and asking that we used until we got our own lab built up enough. And sometimes we still do rent when we don’t have a particular piece of big equipment.
Another option is if you are in the Indianapolis area you can borrow our equipment. We ask for a deposit fee, but we give 90% of it back when you give the equipment back in the same shape you got it in.
With the intellectual and emotional growth opportunities your kids get while doing hands on, interactive science, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t invest. Doubly so that you can use the myriad of things in non-sciency ways.