Spectacular chemical experiments

Spectacular chemical experiments 

Herbert W Roesky 

Weinheim, Germany:Wiley-VCH 2007 | 240pp | ?19.99 (HB) ISBN 9783527318650 

Reviewed by Alex Johnstone

For many years I have been a keen advocate of the use of demonstrations in lectures and so I looked forward to reviewing this book. The author is clearly an accomplished and enthusiastic demonstrator, but the book disappointed me on several grounds. 

The author sets out to ’marry’ the arts with the sciences by prefacing each experiment with a quotation from some famous writer, mainly poorly translated from German. I have to confess that I could see little connection between the quotes and the experiments which followed. 

The experiments themselves were mildly interesting and even ingenious, but often downright dangerous. Metallic sodium and potassium figured prominently as did bromine and other dangerous materials. 

To the author’s credit, he did spell out the safety considerations of each experiment and methods for of disposal of the residues, but to suggest that some of the experiments were suitable for school projects or even for home use is clearly ludicrous. Health and safety inspectors would have a field day with this book.  

Most of the experiments described are not new and the accompanying pictures are mostly superfluous. Two beakers purporting to contain blue and red gold sols could equally be beakers of dilute blue and red ink. 

Some chemicals and equipment would be unfamiliar to a modern British chemist: Dan Chlorox, McCormick 

colours, Kipp’s apparatus, magnesia boat and many more. Some of the instructions left me baffled such as: ’the filter paper should be sucked’. Did the author mean, ’soaked’? The ’lively style of writing’ promised in the introduction, failed to materialise since much of the translation was ponderous and not always accurate. 

I should have liked to recommend this book, but I cannot think of a situation in the UK where these experiments would acceptably fit any curriculum.