Monday, December 13, 2010

Future Projects

Future Projects

I have been very busy lately and with Christmas coming I haven't had as much time to play around as I would like. But here is a list of projects I am working on:

1) converting an old fridge, the bottom section I will use it for chemicals storage unit and convert the top freezer compartment into an incubator.

2) build a flask and plate shaker from an old turntable

3) a roller from an old printer (it rotates and mixes solutions in tubes)

4) a new transfer (sterile) chamber

5) video add-on for the microscope

6) a new work area

So stay tuned in the new year and have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More Lab Chemicals

Here is more to add to the list of chemicals that you can collect for your home lab and where you might be able to get them:

Acetone - (H, D)
Alcohol – Isopropyl (D)
Aluminum potassium sulfate - Alum (G)
Ammonium carbonate - smelling salts (D)
Butane - lighter fluid (department stores)
Calcium Hydroxide - Garden lime (garden stores)
Calcium Oxide - quicklime (H)
Ferric Chloride – circuit board etching (electronics store)
Hydrogen Peroxide – (D)
Lead - fishing weights (sports stores)
Methanol – methyl hydrate solvent (paint stores)
Naphthalene - moth balls (Department stores)
Sulfuric acid - car battery acid (car supply)
Toluene – solvent (paint stores)

I will continue to look for everyday chemicals that can be used in a citizen of science's lab.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Vortex Revisited

The vortex revisited.

I improved the spinner of the vortex by using rubber instead of foam. In the upper picture you see all the parts necessary to finish the vortex. You need a blender, a nut and washer that fits on the spinning bar of the blender, a juice cap with a hole drilled through it off centre, the juice spout (the cap screws on this to close the spout)remove as much of the cardboard material around it as you can,and the rubber test tube cap from a florist (this is used for providing water for a single flower).

The juice cap is bolted down on the blender spinning bar. The rubber cap is positioned over the nut on the spinning bar. This gives us a place to put the test tube on when we vortex it. Now take the screw top spout and screw it into the cap. This holds the rubber cap in place and has a hole in it to allow the test tube to rest on the rubber. See second picture.

The cost of this vortex was absolutely free. It works very well. Now that I have it working I will clean it up and add it to my growing lab.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lab Chemicals

As can be seen above I don't keep large quantities of chemicals and all are labeled. Chemicals are the foundation of most labs and experiments. You will need at least some chemicals to do experiments.

Here is a small list of chemicals that you can collect for your home lab and where you might be able to get them. They will get you started:

G - grocery store
D - drug store
H - hardware store

Acetic Acid - pure white vinegar (G)
Aluminium - foil (G)
Ammonium Bicarbonate - spices (G)
Ammonium Chloride - soldering flux (electronics store)
Ammonium Hydroxide - household ammonia (D,H,G)
Aluminium Sulphate - (gardening store)
Ascorbic Acid - spices (G)
Boric Acid - ant and roach killer (H,G)
Calcium Carbonate - tums, chalk (D)
Calcium Chloride - drying agent (H)
Calcium Hypochlorite - bleaching powder (G)
Calcium Sulphate - plaster of paris (H)
Charcoal - (aquarium store)
Citric Acid - spices (G)
Copper - wire (H)
Copper Sulphate - drain cleaner (H)
Corn Starch - (D,G)
Denatured Alcohol - shellac thinner (H)
Glycerin - glycerol (D)
Hydrochloric Acid - muriatic acid (H)
Iron - steel wool, nails (H)
Manganese Dioxide - black material in regular batteries (D,H,G)
Magnesium Sulphate - epsom salts (D)
Sodium Bicarbonate - baking soda (G)
Sodium Bisulphate - Sani-Flush (H,G)
Sodium Borate - Borax (G)
Sodium Carbonate - washing soda (G)
Sodium Chloride - table salt non-iodized (G)
Sodium Hydroxide - Drano (H)
Sodium Silicate - crystal garden kits (toy store)
Sucrose - table sugar (G)
Trisodium Phosphate - TSP (G)
Turmeric - spices (G)
Zinc - metal found in regular batteries (D,H,G)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Lab Vortex

A Lab Vortex

When I was making the centrifuge I had to drill a hole through the center of the spinner bowl. The first time I drilled it was a little off center and it spun slightly off. This had given me an idea for building a lab vortex.

Using another blender that I found, a nut, washer, sponge foam and a juice container cap (from one of the many storage bins I made) I was able to make a lab vortex. I drilled a hole in the juice container cap slightly off center. Made a hole in the foam so that when the nut held the cap in place it would also hold the foam in place to. The washer was used under the cap to slightly raise the cap so it would not rub on the blender.

I want to make the vortex cap better and will experiment on fixing this. I was thinking that maybe a small suction cup may do a better job, but we will see. For the time being it works pretty well.

You can see in the pictures the parts used and the vortex working.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Water Bath

Water Bath

At a Thrift Shop I found another aquarium heater for $2.00. I built a lab support stand from a piece of wood and a wooden dowel. Found the clamp and clamp holder at a surplus store for $2.00 each. A lab thermometer I already had. The Pyrex dish I have as well. The thermometer holder was made from a clothespin, plastic tube from a toy car and tape (I will add glue to make it permanent). The aquarium heater is placed in lab clamp and thermometer holder is placed in the clamp holder that clamped to the support stand. Then place all of this into a dish, beaker, etc. Make sure it is large enough to allow other lab equipment to sit in the water bath. And there you have a nice water bath for the lab.

You can use an aquarium thermometer instead of the lab one. You can find these at second-hand stores or in the trash or even buy a new very cheaply. I will be looking at using the slow cooker I found as a water bath as well. It does not have a way to set the temperature as easily as the above water bath can. It has 3 settings to use.

Water baths are a very important item in the lab and this was a relatively inexpensive way to make one.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Of My Lab

More of My Lab

This picture shows more of my lab. Most of my biological work gets done here.

Over the summer I have picked up many discarded items:

VCR's - they have motors that can move things and timers to set things up.
Blenders, slow cookers (maybe able to use for water baths), electric cup warmers (again use for water baths), aquarium and aquarium heaters.

A great book I found a bit out-dated: Recombinant DNA a Short Course by James Watson, John Tooze and David Kurtz. It is a short course on DNA manipulation, so far a very interesting read. I found this at a second hand book store for $1.00.

Another book I have read over the summer was "A Life Decoded" by Craig Venter. It deals with Venter's time dealing with the human genome group, as well as other parts of his life.

If you want plenty to read and watch, go to There is so much there, so much information. You can even download their journal as PDF files. They have interactive labs, etc.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Power Supply

Power Supply

I have been looking for a power supply for my electrophoresis other than batteries. I have been using an old train transformer, but it is very slow or 3 to 5 9 volt batteries, but is very costly. While searching the internet I found this:

Now any time you play with a 120 volts you should be very careful. Here is a file for Basic Electrical Safety:

I will be building this power supply and trying it out. I will talk about this in a later post. If you build be very careful.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Building A Transfer Chamber

Building A Transfer Chamber

A sterile environment is needed when working with microbes and tissues. A sterile environment greatly reduces the chance of contamination by other microbes and materials in the air. Here I make a simple transfer chamber from an old aquarium, an fluorescent light, plastic and tape.

The plastic is cut a little larger than the opening of the aquarium. This allows the plastic to fold around the edges where it is taped to the aquarium. I tape the plastic only half way down the sides of the aquarium. This allows for my hands and arms to enter the chamber. The fluorescent light sits on top of the aquarium to allow me to see inside.

I sterilize the inside of the chamber by wiping down all surfaces with 70% alcohol or Lysol. This is a very simple transfer chamber and can be made very easily. I have seen it made from clear tote boxes, etc. It is not the best of chambers but it will help cut down on contamination. Later I will discuss building a much better one. Again this was built from everything I already had or found.

The top picture shows the chamber setup in my lab. It is placed on a metal shelve. The shelve above it holds the incubator and a storage of petri-dishes.

The middle picture shows it put together.

The bottom picture shows the parts used to build the chamber - aquarium, plastic, light and tape.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Science Kits (Electronic)

Here you can see 3 different electronic kits, 2 of which I found at garage sales and one I found at a surplus store.

1) A 75 in-one kit. It is an older kit and was from Radio Shack.

2) A 130-in-one kit, again it came from the old Radio Shack stores. It to is an older kit.

Both of these were found at garage sales and cost very little to buy.

3) A 300-in-one kit(the white one). This is a new kit and it allows for the mounting of microchips and electronic parts. It was at a surplus store for about a third of the cost.

These kits are great. They allow you to put circuits together for testing without any soldering. It makes it easier to try different things without having to solder and desolder parts to see if they will work together. If you intend to build anything with electronics this is a good way to test it and I believe most labs should have one or two.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Links - Videos, Games and Reading

It has been awhile since I have posted. I have been very busy. Working on new projects, etc. I am posting some links I think will be of use to many people.


This goes with the Make Science Room and the book Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture. (Make: Books, 2008), which I have talked about in another post. He talks about making some chemicals form other chemicals to add to your lab, standardizing store bought chemicals, etc.


Another youtube creation on making your chemicals from easy to find substances in stores.


A free microscope magazine Micscape.


The Public Library of Science. You can read science journals for free.


If you want to play around with and learn about folding proteins this is a lot of fun. Again it is free.

Enjoy there is much out there to look at and play with.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Too Cool For School Art & Science Fair

Here is an interesting site: The Too Cool For School Art & Science Fair . They want to bring art and science together. Have a look at it. If you live in Southern Ontario you might want to attend.

Do you seem to live in a different world from everyone around you? Do you spend your free time inventing, collecting, drawing, writing, theorizing, or somehow tinkering with your obsession?

Then we invite YOU to submit a project to the Too Cool for School Art & Science Fair!

The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 26, 2010.

The Too Cool For School Art & Science Fair will be a truly interdisciplinary event at which people from diverse fields share art and information and engage in friendly competition. The event is structured just like a school science fair — participants will display their projects on rows of tables. The difference, however, is that this event is as much about art as it is about science.

The fair is for all ages, with the one restriction being 15 years and older. Here is a link to the submission guideline page:

which is basically the following:

* one paragraph of 50 words or less describing your project
* one drawing or photograph describing your project
* one bio of 50 words or less describing yourself and your work, education and volunteer experience
* your contact information including mailing address, email and telephone number

Email submissions to


send by post to the following address
(no hand delivery, submissions will not be returned, must be postmarked no later than March 26 2010)

Visual Arts Department, Attn: Too Cool For School: 26/03/10
Harbourfront Centre
235 Queen’s Quay West
Toronto, ON
M5J 2G8

We will contact you by April 9, 2010 to let you know if your submission has been chosen. There is no entry fee. Participants will be selected on the basis of originality, depth of inquiry, visual or conceptual impact and creative innovation.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gel Illumination Box

I have put together some parts I hope to use in the making of a gel illumination box. I will use this to illuminate my gels (stained and partially stained gels) and/or chromatography papers to give me a clearer picture of my separation bands. Many times they are very hard to see.

The box is a cookie/candy tin with the lid having a see-through portion (you can take any cookie tin or box and cut out part of the lid). I will place a light (I found an old broken plastic Christmas candle and removed the light, switch and cord from on top of it) in side the tin. The on/off switch and cord are kept on the outside of the box (they will pass through a hole on a side wall). The see-through portion is made of clear plastic. It is not very rigid but is sturdy. I can lay gels or papers on it to let light pass through and give me a clearer picture of my separation bands.

I also have some white plastic used for shading fluorescent lighting that I found in the trash. I will use this to diffuse the light and as a support for the gels and papers. It will make for easier clean up as well.

Later I will post the finished product.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gel Electrophoresis

Top picture shows a gel electrophoresis chamber that came with the Discovery DNA Kit. The CSI DNA kit has one as well. The chamber uses 3 - 9 volt batteries. The gel is made using 9 ml of agar or agarose. It makes 3 wells for loading and runs from negative to positive. It is a nice little chamber and works well.

Here in the lower picture I bring together all the items I will need to put together a gel electrophoresis chamber of my own. This will allow me to add more wells and to place the wells in different spots on the gel.

I have a plastic bin for the chamber(this holds everything in place, the gel, sample, buffer and electrodes). I will use a plastic lozenges box for the gel chamber (you can use a soap dish or any other dish that will fit into the main chamber or box). You cut the ends off the lozenges box and use either masking tape or I will try and use Glad press and seal on the ends to form the gel. The styrofoam will be used to make a comb to form the wells in the gel. I will cut out a few different ones. The aluminum will be placed on the inside sides of the large box on opposite ends and will be used as electrodes. I will look for some stainless steal nails or screws to replace the aluminum.

To power the electrophoresis I will be using a old model train transformer that I found and repaired. It goes from 0 - 21 volts, not nearly enough voltage but it will do until I can come up with something better. Or I could use 3-5 9 volt batteries for the power supply.

You can see a couple of packages of agar-agar that I found at an Asian store. These will be used for the gel. I do have some powdered agarose (but not much about 1.5 gm) that I will compare with the agar-agar in my tests.

Here are some web sites that may help in constructing the gel electrophoresis:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More Useful Links

1) I would like to thank Tom, a viewer of this blog. He sent me the following link for Constructing Inexpensive Lab Equipment. The link I have as I talked about before is no longer working. I browsed the link Tom gave me and I was able to download the files from there. There are many pdf files to get, so go get them before they get lost.

Here are some more important websites for the citizen scientist.

2) This pdf file was sent to me by Jake(thanks Jake) another reader of the blog. I was able to find a link for it.

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments - How to Set Up a Home Laboratory - Over 200 Simple Experiments by Robert Brent. I have the soft cover version of this book and I am very glad to find a pdf of it. This way I do not have use the original and worry about damaging it. When looking at this book on the internet you find that many talk about it being a dangerous book, but again let us face the facts that is what can make science fun. So be careful with it. It shows how to setup a home lab and build some of the equipment needed. It has many chemistry experiments as well.

3) This link gives you a list of chemicals to outfit your lab and where you might be able to find them. It is part of the Make Science Room. It is a good source I have been searching to see if I can find many of these chemicals especially here in Canada.

All 3 of these links and all other links are posted on my Links portion of the blog, lower right hand.

Again I would like to thank many of my readers for their responses and ideas. With input from others it will make this a better blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Density Meter

I found this in (drawing above) "The Amateur Scientist" by C.L.Stong - chapter on How to Cultivate Harmless Bacteria. It is a light meter for measuring the density of bacterial growth.

Using the items found in the above picture I hope to build this for my use in measuring yeast growth in my experiments. I have collected a box (this one is wood, it can be card board or plastic), the cover should keep out any light. I have a laser pointer as my light source (the original uses a light bulb, if the laser doesn't work, I will use a light bulb). A lens is used to focus the light beam, therefore, giving a more pinpoint concentration of light. A solar cell rated at 5 volts will measure the intensity of the light coming through the sample. The less the growth, more of the light reaches the panel. The volt meter will be connected to the solar panel which will give me my readings.

I will look into hooking it up to my homemade laptop oscillscope so I can record my measurements. I will post the finished meter later when I have worked it out.