Leveraging digital technology to create the chemistry set for the 21st Century

Remember the old chemistry set that allowed kids to mix chemicals together and learn about science?

Remember the old chemistry set that allowed kids to mix chemicals together and learn about science? They haven't been available for many years. So when the Society for Science and the Public - an organization dedicated to engaging the public in science and education - asked for our help with a new contest, we were intrigued.

The challenge was identifying the next chemistry set for the 21st Century through an online competition open to anyone who wanted to invent an engaging, inexpensive, and accessible new product that would help students gain interest in science, just as chemistry sets did 50 years ago.

The winning entry also had to be appropriate for students of all ages. One reason chemistry sets disappeared from stores a generation ago was that the chemicals did not meet today's safety requirements.

We knew this project needed a number of creative and well-executed components to succeed. First, it needed a dedicated website that would captivate the intended audience, process hundreds of submissions including video, and have a back-end judging capability to route submissions through the evaluation process.

In addition, the design needed to reflect a modern sensibility and contemporary graphics with a retro aesthetic that tied the past and future together.

We came up with a design that incorporated all of the elements and delivered an infographic for marketing purposes that showed a virtual chemistry set as a timeline of scientific milestones. Our developers and engineers also built a display that would be visible and responsive on all devices.

The Society for Science and the Public promoted the competition through its massive database of scientists and enthusiasts, as well as through its publication, Science News, and on Twitter using #reimaginetheset.

The organization received more than a thousand submissions. Judges screened all submissions as a first step through an admin-only interface on the site that allows each submission to be routed to specific reviewers with credentials for each type of idea received.

The contest was a great success - and the winning entries will be revealed in mid-March. The Society for Science and the Public will work with the winning submission to protect their intellectual property and they will get $50,000, plus the ability to produce and distribute the winning solution.

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