Category: Engineering (page 1 of 2)

Things of Science #318 — Center of Gravity

Things of Science #318 Center Of Gravity.18This Things of Science unit covers center of gravity. While a simple and small topic in physics, as a young boy center of gravity and center of pressure were big and new concepts when I was learning about model rocketry and how to design a rocket that will be stable. I think this is the perfect unit for a young person just into middle school. Follow this unit with some model rocketry and I think you have the basis for an excellent curriculum.

A photo of the things:

Things of Science #318 Center Of Gravity.things

Here is the booklet:

Things of Science #318 — Center of Gravity

Things of Science

Things of Science LogoI am scanning a lot of Things of Science lately. As a way to keep a handy, sorted reference to the scanned booklets, I created this post. I will update it as I add new units.


Things of Science #222 — Atomic Energy


Things of Science #232 (Feb) — Herb Seeds

Things of Science #234 (Apr)— Sextant

Things of Science #235 (May) — Straight Line

Things of Science #236 (Jun) — Hexaflexagon


Things of Science #306 B — Topology

Things of Science #313 — Measurement


Things of Science #318 — Center of Gravity

Things of Science #321  — Magnetism

Things of Science #322 — Buoyancy

Things of Science #323 — Chromatography

Things of Science #327 — Touch

Things of Science #329 — Computer

Things of Science #330 — Salt

Things of Science #331 — Linkages

Things of Science #332 — Sundial

Things of Science #333 — Sound

Things of Science #334 — Aerodynamics

Things of Science #335 — Corrosion

Things of Science #336 — Heat


Things of Science — Probability

Things of Science #334 — Aerodynamics

Things Of Science 334 Aerodynamics (ttings)The box was a little longer than usual for this Things of Science unit. This because of the small balsa airplane included. This unit did come complete when I purchased it.
Someone wanting to recreate this unit can easily buy a small balsa glider or two from a hobby store or perhaps a party supply store. Add a lump of clay, straw and paper and you have the things.

Here is the (as usual, well researched) booklet:

Things of Science #334 — Aerodynamics


Things Of Science #332 — Sundial

Things of Science #332 Sundial.17Another reliable Things of Science unit — this time on sundials.Of course there’s history, of course they cover the topic thoroughly, and of course there are many do-it-yourself sundials.

Again, my eBay purchase was missing the “things”, but page 3 lists them off. I think a clever person could work through the booklet the means to (re)creating the sundials presented.

Another data-full booklet:

Things of Science #332 — Sundial

Things of Science #322 — Buoyancy

Another Things of Science unit that requires very few “things” for the person wanting to re-create it. I received only the booklet on eBay so I have none of the things. But, as with other Things of Science units, the contents are listed (usually) on the first or second page.

Again I am amazed at how “buoyancy” can fill a 24-page booklet and 19 experiments. But as usual Things of Science goes beyond the norms — in this unit covering buoyancy as it relates to ships stability among other topics.

Here is the booklet:

Things of Science #322 — Buoyancy

Things of Science #321 — Magnetism

Things of Science #321 - Magnetism.materialsThis Things of Science unit is heavy on the text (if a little light on the things). The booklet first gives a brief history of magnetism and then launches into 35 mini-experiments that are structured to take you on an understanding of magnetism.

The included reed switch might be the only thing a little difficult finding — the rest of the ingredients in the kit should be easily found in a middle-school science classroom.

Enjoy this unit:

Things of Science #321 — Magnetism


Things of Science #234 — Sextant

Things of Science 234.9One of the older Things of Science I have is this one that covers how a sextant works.

You can build a functioning sextant with small amount of items included in the unit. There were  small mirrors, a bit of cellophane, a brass fastener and a few other small items. Most important was probably the large stiff paper pattern of a sextant you were to cut out.

When I first recalled these kits and how fascinated with them I was when I was young, I was a little saddened to think that they no longer exist. But as I began to examine some of the kits like this one, I have begun to see how very easy it would be for a motivated parent or teacher to put together a “clone” of any one of these Things of Science kits. I’m often surprised at how inexpensive and  easily obtainable many of the items are.

Perhaps this was a popular unit because it was repeated (re-issued) a few times in later years by Things of Science.

Here is the booklet from this unit:

Things of Science #234 — Sextant

And here is the pattern for the sextant printed on it:

Things of Science #234 — Sextant Pattern

Things of Science #235 — Straight Line

Things of Science 235.1Wow, this Things of Science unit really exemplifies what was best about these kits. At first blush, “Straight Line” sounds sort of dull. The “things” that came with this unit were simple pieces of a stiff paper, die-cut to length with pre-punched holes at various intervals. Additionally there were brass brads that allowed you to connect the die-cut strips into linkages. All in all, a pretty low-budget kit. But that is part of the charm….

After some history of geometric constructions and a discussion of curves, we get straight to the linkages. Several historical linkages are presented for the kit-owner to construct. These are clever geometric constructions that, while freely allowed to pivot, they nonetheless succeed in restricting some part of the linkage to linear motion. Knowing that pivoting linkages can only sweep out arcs (curves), it is a wonder that these early inventors were able to conceive of arrangements that produced lines.

I suspect if this kit had landed in the lap of young-me I would have been off on a tear trying to device my own linkages.

Here is the booklet (it lists linkage lengths if you want to create your own “things”):

Things of Science #235 — Straight Line


Things of Science #222 — Atomic Energy

Things of Science 222.1

Back in the 70’s, there was one year when I got a subscription to Things of Science. What a fascinating, nerdy thing that was.

If you haven’t heard of Things of Science let me explain to you what it was. Every month you received a small blue box in the mail that contained a booklet and often some other small items. The booklet would explain some scientific or mathematical concept and the small items in the box would be used for a series of experiments explained in the booklet. It was a sort of lab science lesson in a box.

One month the topic might be probability and the items in the box would be a pair of dice and some colored tokens. The experiments would involve the dice, etc. If you followed the instructions in the booklet you might learn quite a bit about probability by the time you finished.

Next month is might be about plants of some kind and the box would contain seeds you can plant.

One that I received that stands out in my memory was about Xerography. I now know that the mysterious black powder that came in the bag (in addition to a sheet of acetate and some sheets of white paper) is what we call printer toner. I remember the final experiment had you building up a static electrical charge on the acetate and then “writing” on it with dish soap (not included). Then there was a step where you transferred the electrical charge to a sheet of blank paper. I believe you sprinkled the toner over the sheet of paper and, lo and behold, the toner was attracted to an area on the paper representing the image you had “drawn” with  dish soap. The final step to cure the image involved using a clothes iron (also not included)  to melt or fuse the toner to the paper. I was blown away to see it actually work.

I no longer have my Things of Science units I’m afraid. I have since though picked up a few from eBay. One older unit I picked up involved Atomic Energy (unit #222). Unfortunately the kit was not complete and the uranium oxide and lead sheet were missing.

If a teacher wanted to re-create this unit for the classroom, there are going to be modern difficulties.

The unit begins with experiments in electrostatic (static) electricity. For this you need:

  • 2 balloons
  • Thread
  • A sealing wax rod
  • Saran wrap
  • Either fur or wool

They then move on to constructing an electroscope. For this they suggest:

  • a glass jar
  • a length of stiff copper wire
  • foil (from chewing gum wrapper)
  • a penny

You can throw money and buy an electroscope for about $30. Or search around the internet for a tutorial (if the booklet below doesn’t describe it well enough for you). Here is one I found with a few minutes searching: build a simple electroscope

Soon though the unit calls for Uranium Oxide impregnated paper (the radiation source). I have not found an inexpensive source for this. Nonetheless, I am aware that home smoke detectors contain a radioactive source (Americium, I believe). You can easily get a cheap smoke detector or an old one and open it up for it’s radiation source. While I haven’t tried the experiment in the unit by substituting the radioactive source from a smoke detector, it seems like it should work.

Perhaps you have access to an old watch with a radium on the tips of the hands?

The unit talks about autoradiographs and while do-able (again, if you can find an adequate radiation source) photographic film and the means to develop it are getting to be a more difficult hurdle to overcome. There was a time of course when schools (well, middle schools and high schools anyway)  probably had a darkroom and the necessary film and chemicals. So perhaps autoradiographs can be skipped.

The unit discusses cloud chambers. Building one of these is not as simple as an electroscope. But the construction is discussed. But also, like the electroscope, there are plenty of sites on the internet that detail building a cloud chamber. The chamber should not be expensive to construct and if you do build one, the result of operating one is fascinating.

Here is a page showing how to build a cloud chamber. It was one of the first ones I clicked on.

The unit describes a spinthariscope and how to build one. A double-convex lens is easy to find (a magnifying glass) but the activated Zinc Sulfide will have to be ordered. I found a place that sells the Zinc Sulfide for $10. It turns out they also sell a completed spinthariscope for $35.

Finally, the unit discusses the Geiger counter. They give an electronic parts list and a schematic but it really shouldn’t be attempted by anyone not extremely familiar with electronics. It uses mains-power (household current) and can be dangerous to use if incorrectly wired. Instead, if you have $99 to spare, a clever, modern kit like this one would be a fun addition to a science classroom.

Here is a scan of the booklet that came with this unit:

Things of Science #222 — Atomic Energy

The Boy Mechanic

Boy Mechanic 1

It’s difficult for me to describe the magic I felt the first time I came across an old volume of “The Boy Mechanic” at the house of a friend of the family. I was young, perhaps ten or eleven years old, and already had a knack for seeing how things worked. Even at that age, I loved making things (though I had very few resources and tools). And so then here, suddenly, was this big, heavy, thick old book that showed all manner of amazing things a handy “boy” could make.

Clearly the book was old. Some of the contraptions required access to barrel staves, buggy springs … things from an earlier time. Nonetheless, it was chock full of clever things you could make with ordinary hand tools, access to the sort of odds and ends of the time, and a lot of patience, free time, and some degree of skill.

Many of the projects looked fun. Some even looked dangerous!
Boy Mechanic

And, I soon discovered, the family also had additional volumes of “The Boy Mechanic” that were published afterward. They were just as thick and just as crammed with projects, and ideas. In fact, the first run of “The Boy Mechanic” included four volumes.

Unfortunately, for me, I was unable to borrow the books and had to content myself with poring over them when our family came over to visit. Because of the books age (already about seventy years old at that time) I was not able to find them in the library to check out.

Eventually, when I got older, I tracked down some of the volumes in used book stores and purchased them. Eventually too I found reprints of the first four volumes and purchased these as well. I also discovered that the original four volumes were not the last of “The Boy Mechanic” that had been created — new editions with new projects and crafts were printed sometime around the 50’s.

I will share some of the amazing things from these books in some of the postings that follow. Maybe, if these books are new to you, you can show them to someone young and creative in your life and perhaps they too will get some of the inspiration that I did.

In this day and age, it is unfortunate that the books specify a gender in the title. Maybe when you present the series to a young person you can simply describe the books as The Young Mechanic.

The original “The Boy Mechanic, Vol. I” was published in 1913 and so is well outside of copyright. For this reason it is easy enough to find a copy of the book online for free. Here is one such link:

And also “The Boy Mechanic, Vol. 2”:

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