Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Soft science

I went to visit my sister recently, and her daughter has a toy pancreas. No, really! For a children’s toy, it’s pretty non-descript: it’s similar in shape and size to a yellow squash, but (I think) has a little face on it. Somehow, I am not able to enlighten you with a picture (the all-powerful internet has failed me), so you’ll have to imagine it. Not only is it funny that she plays with it in general, but that she, at 4 years old, could quite happily request it. “Mom! I want my pancreas!” or “Mom! Jack took my pancreas!” Actually, it’s starting to sound like an episode of ER

Hospital dramas aside, I also knew about these stuffed microbes, which are equally hilarious. I think what’s happening is that someone who feels very strongly about increasing the numbers of scientists in the US (or anywhere, really) has decided that targeting high school students is not working. The kids are already turned off to science at that point. So, they think, let’s start earlier. Get these 4-year olds to appreciate the difference between the Ebola virus and sleeping sickness! Get them to love their kidneys, and we’ll have a new generation of microbiologists and doctors ready to go. Even the physicists have their mascot

In all this, though, I wonder: where are the chemists? I did find a Marie Curie finger puppet, but I think we need to step it up in order to really promote chemistry among our kindergarteners. The problem, of course, is to identify chemistry-related items that could be translated into plush toys. Individual atoms may be difficult to make interesting, since they would all be quite similar. What about glassware? Wouldn’t every child love a stuffed round bottom flask? I think molecules would also work, but manufacturers might balk at all the little pieces…

What do you think would make a good toy? And, more importantly, what have I done with my pancreas?…

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)


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    b grubbs said:

    At what age do kids stop thinking that column chromatography is fun? Because if that worked, it would be almost as good as getting them to shovel the driveway. Translating these enjoyable tasks into stuffed playthings, however, would probably be tough.

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    Russ said:

    Aromatic molecules might make neat pillow-like stuffed toys.

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    Uncle Al said:

    1) Does the stuffed pancreas have freckles (Isles of Langerhans)?

    2) Possession of chemical glassware (e.g., a beaker) gets you protracted free room and board in the New York State prison system, you de jure drug synthesizer.

    3) Public education is the parity transformation of objective education. An intellectually crippled polity spoon-fed truth of the moment is its enthusiastically sought, very realizable goal.

    4) For every multi-$billion/year 45-year atrocity of Head Start there is Even Start determined to be improved means to deteriorated ends. The only unfundable exercise is education of the Gifted.

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    robert said:

    The ACS has been putting out little moles with lab coats and goggles as schwag for meetings. My daughter loves hers.

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    Andrew Sun said:

    Perhaps in 2050 we have base pairs to build a sequence of DNA which can be subjected to an automatically transcription and translation machine and obtain the final protein product. You can try out different sequences you like to see what protein you will get. Or more chemically, supramolecular building blocks with different H-bonds sites or hydrophobicity, and sometimes charge-transfer, FRET or donor-acceptor properties can be used to build castles, houses, cars, etc. The only difference from what we are doing now is, it is macroscopic.