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Even in the modern age weather prediction is a chancey game. Despite the power of satellites, weather radar, and host of other modern instruments the weatherman still doesn’t always get it right.

But in early ages it was even worse. Naturally they lacked such modern electronic tools that we have so they desperately sought out any device or gadget that would help them predict storms or other weather. This wasn’t a matter of the danger being getting a little wet, this was life and death in many cases. As much as weather can still kill these days, it was much worse when a sail-powered ship might head into a fierce storm that could cause damage or loss of life.

Devices such as early barometers and static detection might help, but what people wanted was something that could predict the weather.

For a while, some thought they had found one. The only problem was: they were wrong.

Enter the Storm Glass. These were sealed glass tubes or other shapes. Inside was a mixture of water and other chemicals (usually camphor being the most common).  It isn’t known who invented or developed the Storm Glass, but one Admiral Fitaroy was the biggest champion for their use to predict storms in the 19th century. The British Crown went so far as to supply them to the various British Isles.

There were even charts or lists produced to show what the various types of crystals indicated the weather would be.  An example from Admiral Fitzroy

  • If the liquid in the glass is clear, the weather will be bright and clear.
  • If the liquid is cloudy, the weather will be cloudy as well, perhaps with precipitation.
  • If there are small dots in the liquid, humid or foggy weather can be expected.
  • A cloudy glass with small stars indicates thunderstorms.
  • If the liquid contains small stars on sunny winter days, then snow is coming.
  • If there are large flakes throughout the liquid, it will be overcast in temperate seasons or snowy in the winter.
  • If there are crystals at the bottom, this indicates frost.
  • If there are threads near the top, it will be windy.

It was all nonsense, of course. Although the various formations of crystals could seem to be a reaction to the weather, the fact was the only thing the crystal formation could indicate was a change in temperature. This was confirmed in 2008 by a paper in the Journal of Crystal Growth.

Once people realized that the Storm Glasses were of little use in weather prediction they were ignored or removed.  A few holdouts produced artisan versions but the idea was mostly abandoned. However, when the ‘MAKE’ movement started producing instructions for making home-made versions people started to clamor for a more aesthetically pleasing version they could display at home or on a desk. This has resulted in the versions you see today. Although tube versions still exist, there are also teardrop shaped units, as well as glass swans, ovals, or whatever else the glassamkers think will look good.

So a failed weather predicting device becomes home art. Hey, it happens!

Want to buy a Storm Glass?


For quite some time we have been selling Fischer Technical’s excellent High-Vacuum Pumps , an excellent line that is incredibly durable – able to handle operating 24/7. But these pumps are oil based and do require oil-changes.

Now Fischer has added a new line of Diaphgram vacuum pumps to fill the needs where a pump is required, but not the endurance of the high vacuum pumps, but still providing decent vacuum production as well as being chemically-resistant for use in the lab.

Enter the PILOT3000 and PILOT5000, both excellent choices for for a laboratory’s filtration, dessication and other mid-range needs. The PILOT series include features such as an inlet trap & vacuum regulator and all contact surfaces are PTFE (teflon) coated for chemical resistance, making them virtually maintenance-free.

Both the PILOT3000 & PILOT5000 are 20psi continuous-duty pump, both operate at a low-volume ~54dB range, are small (both models under 9″ in their longest dimension), lightweight (7.5 and 13 lbs respectively) and durably built in the USA. Both units can use an optional Vacuum Regulator Assembly, to keep the level of pressure you require.  The chemical-resistance is able to handle acetone vapors and bleach, allowing them to be used with cell-culture decontamination protocols.

The PILOT3000 and PILOT5000 are economically priced, costing $414.24 and $669.22 respectively. The PILOT5000 also has the available option of operating on 230V (opposed to the standard 115V) in both European and Amercian versions.

Bother of these models are excellent options for multiple markets. Get yours today!

Shop for more Vacuum Pumps?

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Its been well over a month since the total solar eclipse took place in the United States and for a small science store the overwhelming experience for us was the demand (and inability to supply) eclipse shades for viewing the event.  We bought hundreds of eclipse shades, but underestimated the last minute demand for them.

So what happened? Well, mostly it was folks waiting until the last minute (sometimes later than the last minute) to purchase shades, combined with some unscrupulous dealers selling eclipse shades that were not up to acceptable standards.

Early Warnings of Frauds

As early as February of 2017 there were warnings about substandard eclipse glasses being sold on the market. This wasn’t a major issue at the time but some of the glasses were showing up with fake . certification warnings and using the logos of legitimate eclipse shade sellers such as Rainbow Symphony and American Paper Optics. While this was a problem, it was purely a safety problem and was not yet a logistics issue.

Early Orders Sell Out

Nobody  wanted to buy hudnreds of eclipse shades montsh and months before the eclipse actually happened so we (and many others) placed their orders 3 months before the eclipse happened. Sales were decent but not spectacular. Nonetheless we did run out of the shades about a month before the eclipse and ordered more, expecting a decent increase in demand but not a floodgate.

Floodgates Open

The next batch was selling handily and we tried to order more before they ran out and were told by our supplier (American Paper Optics) that they would be unable to fill any more orders as they had over 18,000 orders in need of filling. Most of these were custom orders that needed printing, etc. They were overwhelmed.

Still we had an OK supply of Eclipse Shades in the store. We figured we would run out before the eclipse but that people would understand and find other sources.

Amazon Drops the Ball

A little over a week before the Eclipse, Amazon suddenly refunded anyone who purchased eclipse shades, solar filters, and other solar viewing items. They advised people not to use those shades as they were not approved for solar viewing. Sadly some vendors selling decent eclipse shades were caught up in this firestorm but more importantly thousands of customers suddenly found out that their shades were defective and to use them might be dangerous.

So now in addition to the usual last-minute customers there would also be a legion of customers who did plan ahead but found their equipment compromised and in need of replacement. On August 12th we sold the last of our Eclipse Shades, and the flood gates for requests started to open. BY the 14th we had noticed we were getting quite a few calls, on the 15th we got even more calls. By the 16th we decided to start keeping track. Here was our final tally:

Most of these were phone calls, but a number of them were people coming to the store itself. The phone simply would not stop ringing and it got to the point where we wanted to answer the phone “Thank you for calling Spectrum Scientifics, we are out of eclipse shades!” to save time. But hat seemed a little rude.

Naturally, when we explained that we were out of eclipse shades many folks asked where they could get them. Here is the timline of what we advised:


8/16: Suggested that they try the stores at the Franklin Instute Science Museum.

8.17 : Franklin Institute is apparently out of eclipse shades. Rumors are that several 7-11 stores have them as an impulse item. Media notices the shortage and reports the troubles finding them.

8/18 : Customers tell us they tried 7-11 and they are all out of them, tales are told of travelling for hours to get to a 7-11 that might have them

We now advised customers to attend events where libraries, local television stations and other locations would be handing out the glasses. These events are overwhelmed and run out fairly quickly.

8/19: Over 100 inquiries in one day. We are advising that customers use projection systemsfor viewing. Some customers ask if we are selling such items (we are not as they are constructed out of cereal boxes).

8/20: Inquiries decline slightly as people read in the media that there are no eclipse shades to be had. It is the day before the eclipse. Still, over 70 people inquire about them.

8/21: Eclipse day!  Calls are still coming in as we set up our telescope to show a projection of the eclipse:

Many people on the street gather around to watch the projection. Several try the ‘smartphone shooting over the shoulder technique’, others come by with carboard projection systems they have built themseleves. Cars even slow down on Main St to look at the eclipse projection. Thankfully no traffic incidents happen as a result of this…

And we continued to get calls about Eclipse shades!

Until the local peak had passed there were people calling about buying eclipse shades. To be fair they did understand that they were the very definition of ‘last minute’ but there wasn’t much we could tell them at that point. During our store event we had a couple of sample pairs that we passed around for people to use. It turns out a single pair could could be shared among a dozen people without much incident.

The Aftermath

On April 8th, 2024 (an unusually short time) there will be another total eclipse in the USA and this time, if we are still around, we hope not to get caught off guard. Will the wisdom of last minute shoppers change? (Our experience with holiday shoppers says ‘no’), will people try to re-use Eclipse Shades from 2017? (Doutbless some will, but they should not as they really should not be used after a year or two), and we cannot expect Amazon to mess up like they did in 2017.

We are looking forward to it.


On August 21st, 2017 a large portion of the Continental US will experience a total solar eclipse. Much of the rest of the continental US will experience at at least a partial eclipse: Philadelphia will have about 78% totality, NYC 75%, Washington DC 84%, Chicacgo 88%, Los Angeles 70%, Seattle 93%, etc.

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Spectrum Scientifics opened in 2007 with a load of great science toys for our customers. Since then we have seen many toys come, some toys go, and some toys get pulled from the shelves for one reason or another. Here is a list of the toys we have seen get removed from the toy list.

Note that this list does not include anything recalled due to potential ‘pieces break off and cause choking hazards’ and similar issues. We are discusing products that inherently had an issue that made them unsafe, or were used in an unsafe manner. This in no way claims to be a complete list.Merely the ones we have observed.

Not all of these things were permanently banned, either, as you will see:

Battat Magnetic Construction Toy, 2008

It seemed awesome, metal rods and magnetic balls would be used to put together nifty shapes! Great! Sadly the shiny metal magnetic balls were too tempting to swallow and they were powerful enough that two of them could ‘pinch’ in a kids intestine.

Battat and other companies rereleased this toy design with more secured magnets and non-magnetic steel balls.

Water Balz: 2012


Similar to popular Water Marbles, Slippery Spheres, Orbeez, etc, except these Water Balz were big! Much bigger than the little marbles that were Orbeez & Co:



Sound great? It was! But then an abusive parent shoved one down a child’s throat and it expanded with the moisture,  causing about what you would expect to happen. Toy suppliers volutarily removed the product from the market. You can still get them, but they are sold as chemistry equipment/gardening items, or whatever is needed to not have children as the primary target market.

CSI Fingerprint Kit: 2007-2008

We never carried this item, because we tend to avoid premium show-based kits which often just cost twice the price of better science kits.  But here it was in all its glory: A fingerprint kit with a chemical that was 7% asbestos. Ooops!

This incident, along with several other famous cases (such as the Thomas the Tank Engine Lead Paint incident) showed there were many problems with sourcing products in China. Too many times corners were being cut, and dangerous products being substituted, and other safety issues. Toy companies that imported had to start doing local testing of the products for safety, and quite a few gave up mass-importation. In China, things got very ugly with at least one head of a factory traced back to the safety issues first imprisoning an investigating journalist then hanging himself.

BuckyBalls: 2011

Incredibly popular when they were out, now these have almost been forgotten. Buckyballs were technically never sold as a toy for children, and the manufacturer took pains to try to keep them out of the hands of kids. But the Consumer Product Safety Commission, after adding on multiple sales conditions restrictions,  finally demanded the magnet sets be banned. The reasoning was the same as happened with Battat’s construction toy: kids swallowing the magnets would have them ‘pinch’ in the intestines. The company pretty much disappeared after this ban, but returned this year with a smaller, complient tiny magnetic ball kit.

But the magnet ban? It sent shockwaves through the toy indutry as toy sellers scrambled to remove the powerful rare-earth magnets from various toys.

Eventually, another manufacturer of the magnetic balls sets won a lawsuit against the CPSC and the magnetic balls sets are once again legal. But still cannot be sold to children.




Lasers, we do love our lasers! From the classic Red, to the bright Green, to the sneaky, changing Violet we love the fact that we can have such a unique pointing device in our hands.

But laser pointers have undergone a few changes in recent years, and some of the changes may be hard to figure out. Times were they were all like flashlights: one end would screw off and you would insert the batteries (AAA or button cell). They would resemble this laser pointer:

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It’s been just under a year since we had an update about the CPSC’s favorite target: Those little spherical magnets commonly known by the brand name of BuckyBalls.

As you may recall, BuckyBalls came on the market a few years back, made quite a splash, but were then hounded by the Consumer Product Ssafety Commission to the point where these magnets were effectively banned.  Another spherical magnet supplier, known as NeoCube, also fell by the wayside, but a 3rd company, the almost unknown Zen Magnets (who apparently were first in with the product but last in overall sales due to BuckyBalls and NeoCube’s aggressive wholesaling campaign.) made the effort to fight back at the CPSC and actually won their court case.

Sadly, that was not the end of it. Zen Magnets has spent the better part of the past year just getting things in order for a new rollout of the classic spherical magnet product. Meanwhile they are bracing for another possible round of legal battles with the CPSC.

It might not come to that. The CPCS commissioner is on record as saying the following:

“We’re doing this without taking the time to learn the lessons about why we failed the first time, or if there’s any need for the rule… I think this is a factor of pure ego, and this agency has taken the thoughtful opinions of the 10th circuit personally, and we just wanna win for winning’s sake…”

The CPSC removed the rule on 3/1, as ordered by the court. But almost immediately the commission voted to implement a new rule regarding magnets. The precedent is set, however, so a rule as draconian as the last one would be lost in court even faster.

Meanwhile, what happened to the other companies? No idea what happened to NeoCube – their inventory was sold Zen Magnets (which may have caused them quite a bit of a legal headache) and we can assume they are long gone. Zen Magnets is in position to restablish spherical magnet sales. The folks who made BuckyBalls? Well, while Zen Magnets was fighting the legal fight against the CPSC they released a set of tiny rare earth magnets that they sarcastically named ‘Compliance Magnets’

Perhaps taking a hint from these Compliance Magnets, the makers of BuckyBalls released SPEKS. A set of rare earth micromagnets that is also compliant with the CPSC’s old rule.

Time will tell if they succeed with this product. Having personally handled such ultra-tiny magnets I find they had some appeal, but lacked the fidget potential the classic larger Spherical Magnets posessed.


As for our store? Well, we have our own (as the top image shows), and can sell them until another ban comes down. Sadly we can only sell these in-store at the moment.