Popular Science2
Mark’s article on GOOD! The Return of Amateur Science

Last week, while browsing the Popular Science archives (which recently became available on Google), I noticed that the earlier issues of this 138-year-old magazine contained quite a few articles devoted to amateur science. The 1940s and 1950s were a heyday for basement-based research, with experiments such as making hydrogen gas, building a photomicrographic camera out of a stovepipe, constructing a Geiger counter, making a tiny oil refinery, and superheating steam to a temperature high enough to light a cigarette. It’s fun to imagine postal clerks, insurance brokers, and aluminum siding salesmen pulling out a microscope to study a sample of the family pet’s fur, or going outside to examine the heavens with a handmade telescope.

Popular Science wasn’t the only magazine encouraging the everyman to learn more about the natural world. For 72 years, Scientific American ran its popular “Amateur Scientist” column, which debuted in 1928. Projects included constructing an electron accelerator, making amino acids, photographing air currents, measuring the metabolic rate of small animals, extracting antibiotics from soil, culturing aquatic insects, tracking satellites, constructing an atom smasher, extracting the growth substances from a cantaloupe, conducting maze experiments with cockroaches, making an electrocardiogram of a water flea, constructing a Foucalt pendulum, and experimenting with geotropism. Who knew you could have so much fun at the kitchen table?