We get quite a lot of books in that are made up of ‘fun experiments’ to do, and often, if I am honest, they are trifle lame. Sanitised and safe, they are the sort of ‘acid and baking powder’ experiment – of themselves entirely worthy, but not the sort of thing that would have interested me as teenager when I was blowing things up, making miniature rocket motors and trying to build a laser from scratch. This book, however, would have been right up my street.
Neil Downie does a lot of work with Saturday Morning science clubs, school science clubs and the like, and although they can be done in the home, these are often the sort of experiments that would benefit from that kind of environment. I could also, frankly, see grown up engineers doing this kind of thing in there spare time, just for a bit of fun.
It’s not that every experiment involves danger, although we do have a dramatic vacuum powered cannon, electrical explosives and more – but there isn’t the usual feel of restraint and ‘health and safety gone mad’, which is excellent. Each of the 72 experiments comes with detailed instructions, but also some learning information and perhaps best of all the opportunity to try things out. Downie doesn’t give you a rigid approach – often you are encouraged to experiment with different possibilities to make your experiment even better. This is wonderful – it is encouraging the real scientific/engineering spirit to get out there, get your hands dirty and try things out.
Obviously this doesn’t really work as a book to sit down and read cover to cover, but that’s not what it’s for. My only slight criticisms concern the writing style and the book’s cover. The writing style is a jarring cross-Atlantic combination, which feels a bit like an elderly school-teacher trying to be hip. Unless the photos are very old, Downie isn’t elderly, but he rather writes as if he is. As for the cover, the design looks very amateurish, and to make matters worse in a book that should have a reinforced (preferably blast-proof) plastic cover, it feels very fragile – more paper than cardboard.
But don’t let the look put you off. If you either run a science club or are a teenager who likes getting your hands dirty experimentally, you are going to love this. I certainly would have in my youth.
Review by Brian Clegg