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Archive for March, 2013

Koontz! Funs new Science Kits Part 2

So we already covered the Catapult, the key lock, the Kaleidscope, and the Rolling boomerang in part 1.  Now for the rest of the Koontz line:

First up is the Merry-Go-Round:


This model you put together and the gears operate the spinning discs! A nifty demonstration of cetripital force!

Next up is the Clock


This is not an operational clock, but it does show how gears are used so that the hour hand moves as you rotate the minute hand. An excellent demonstration of gear ratios!

Next we have the Koontz Safe


Here you build the safe and set the combination lock. Then you can see how you need to turn the dials just right to open the lock!.

Finally, getting back to the world of optics, we have the Periscope!


With the included two mirrors and the frame you build you can construct a device that lets you see over walls, around corners and other locations! See without being seen!



Koontz! New fun science kits! Part 1

We’ve added some new science kits to our product line. These are simple, made-with recyclable material building kits that demonstrate some excellent science principles. The company’s name is Koontz and they are from Europe. Let’s see what they have to offer:

First up is the Koontz Catapult


You put this catapult together (it is made of sturdy cardboard material) and test it out. Loads of fun and pretty economical at just $12.95!

Next up is the Koontz Combination Lock


You put this combination lock together and can see how locks actually work with keys! You can adjust the lock to fit the key or not to see how the wrong key won’t turn a lock.

Next up is the Koontz Kaleidoscope!


You put this kaleidoscope together. It has the mirrors you need and the target images to make some really psychadelic imagery!

Next up is a real odd item: the Koontz Rolling Boomerang!


This items is a real teaser. You roll it away from you, and then it rolls right back toward you! Have fun putting it together and figuring out the secret!

Want to get more Physics Fun Toys?




When Suppliers Go Dark

The other day I was talking with the rep for one of my suppliers. I mentioned that a bunch  of their products had disappeared from their product line without much

Krista76 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

notice. I wryly commented that this must be because the supplier was in Japan, and that the company had been moving their suppliers from domestic and Japanese supplier to Taiwan and China sources for quite some time.  “Just decided not to use their stuff any more, eh?” I said.

“No, ” he replied “after the tsunami hit Japan, they went dark. Nobody knows what happened to them. They’re just..gone”.

I felt awful.  But that aside this was a demonstration of how fragile companies can be.  It doesn’t take much to end us, and with that some products may be gone forever.

Spectrum Scientifics is pretty small. Only one owner and one manager. If something were to happen to the owner the company would probably not be able to go on.  But we are just a retailer. With the exception of a few unique products that we assemble ourselves ther are other sources for our products. Maybe not as local to some, maybe with not as good pricing, certainly without as good service. But they are out there.

But when a small supplier goes dark it can be a very uncertain thing. Even in the age of global supply sometimes the manufacturers are just a couple of guys with an injection molder or a machine shop – or while the company is large the contact person with the USA is just one person. (sometime the person is an unneeded middleman, but that’s for another post). When the company goes dark it can be very hard to find out what happened. Unless you have a base of operations in that country you can’t just have someone go over to the company and see what happened to it. Even if you do have an operation in that country, you might be asking someone to make a huge cross-country trek to check on the supplier of one item.

Domestic companies are hardly immune. Many supplier in the USA are just a family business or even just one person. We’ve actually had the experience of having one of our suppliers go dark on us – twice. But in this case we were lucky to have them come back:


This Knight Double-Sided Planisphere is an item we have carried for years. We consider it to be one of the best on the market with a good solid plastic body (waterproof) double-sided, a built-in compass, and more. It was made by Knight Visions which was basically just one person.

In January of 2012, we placed an order with Knight Visions for more of the Planispheres. We had sold all of what we had during the holiday rush and were anxious to get more in stock. We sent the order by fax, and waited.

The order did not show up. We called, faxed, and found that the lines were disconnected. The company had gone dark.

This was a concern, being a purveyor of telescopes not having a planisphere is like being a gas station that doesn’t sell maps, or a car repair place that doesn’t have tires. There are other planispheres out there, but they were either inferior, or inferior and made by a company we didn’t want to deal with.

Then in March we got a call from the owner. It seems he had some medical issues that had prevented him from running his business. But he was back and started filling orders again. We went back to selling the planisphere and breathing a sigh of relief.

Then we placed our order for the 2012 holiday season, and there was a delay. “uh-oh”, we thought, and this time we weren’t completely wrong. But we got a call, and it was from the owner’s wife. Sadly the owner had passed on.

But the wife had taken over the business. Perhaps after the medical issue earlier in the year he had taken steps for her to assume the mantle of the company. In any case we were soon supplied with more planispheres. We gave our condolences for her loss, but at the same time were glad that such an excellent product was not being allowed to fall by the wayside.

Other companies have been known to “go dark” in other ways. At our first toy fair (2008) we found what we thought was an excellent construction toy. At the time they had a huge booth, lots of great products, and excellent pricing. We bought a few and they sold pretty well.  But then their prices went up. The next year they still had a booth at the Toy Fair, and they had pushed their way into distributor catalogs who carry multiple toys from several manufacturers. Some of our toy reps also represented the company. But sales had fallen dramatically for us, so we ceased carrying them.

And then as if they took a lead from us they seemed to vanish. The next year at the Toy Fair they were nowhere to be found – the distributor companies stopped carrying them.  When I asked our toy rep he just shrugged and said he had no idea what happened to them.

But yet they are still around. Their website is still up. They’ve added projects and even a few new products. But beyond that they have no presence. Mind you we could make an effort and hunt them down, but unless you desperately want a product this is not what you do. You’re supposed to get materials from them without having to beg.


Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/slimcoincidence/510388968/”>Krista76</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

New Giant Microbe: Cancer

Giant Microbes have been a staple of our store since the early days. These 5-7″ dolls represent giant versions of the microbes that our part of our daily lives. From the Common Cold, to MRSA, and even some non-microbial tiny things such as the Bed Bug and the Brain Cell.

Now Giant Microbes has added a new doll to their line – one they had to give a lot of thought: Cancer


Cancer was tricky because many suffer from it and while this has been a minor issue in the past they wanted some way to encourage people to think they could fight cancer. So they decide to make the Cancer doll turn inside out.

The starting side of the doll is the unchecked cancer cell it is scraggly and has lots of tendrils, oh and a frowny-face!

But the mouth of the face actually has a zipper! Unzip the mouth and turn the doll inside out and you suddenly have the happy ‘cured’ cancer.

Here’s a video of the Cancer being turned inside-out:

Want to buy Giant Microbes?





The New BenchMark Incu-Shaker 10LR – Heating and Cooling!

We’ve carried the BenchMark Incu-Shaker 10L since it was introduced. It has been a powerful combination of a laboratory shaker combined with an incubator. It shakes flasks 30 to 300 rpm with a 19mm orbit. Flasks can be held by using a devoted flask system or with the magnetic MAGic Clamp system that uses individual flask holders with magnetic bases to keep them in place during the shaking process. Overall the system is one of the most versatile Shaker/Incubator systems on the market:


There has been an addition to the family, however, as BenchMark has now introduced the BenchMark Incu-Shaker 10LR, this new system has one new advantage: it not only can heat, but it can cool as well!

Both the 10L and the 10LR can heat up to 60 degrees Celsius, but the 10LR also has a cooling system that allows to to lower temperatures up to 15 degrees below the ambient room temperature. This increases the versatility of the Incu-Shaker with minimal change in the profile.  It is one of the most affordable systems on the market!

There is a cost, however, and that is weigh. The Incu-Shaker 10L already weighs in at 120 lbs. and the additional weight of the refrigeration system brings the 10LR up to 170 lbs. This is why when ordering an Incu-Shaker we suggest contact us for a LTL freight quote as UPS or FEDEX shipping costs can get fairly large.

Want to buy the BenchMark Incu-Shaker 10LR?



Constructive Eating – An eating toy for younger kids

We often get asked what science toys are good for very young children (3 and younger). To be perfectly frank there aren’t a lot of science toys for such a young age group – certainly there are a lot of learning toys out there, but at such a young age a child’s cognitive learning process doesn’t really distinguish between being fascinated by the everyday world vs. stuff chosen specifically for science education. What that essentially means is that a very young child will probably learn as much from bouncing a rubber ball vs. a toy designed for science education.

Still many folks want something for younger kids, and that’s usually when we suggest Constructive Eating. It is a series of eating utensils designed to look like construction toys! While strictly speaking this is more industry, construction & engineering than science we felt it was well within the boundries of learning to carry the line.


The basic line consists of three utensils, the first up is the Fork Lift Fork


This fork is designed to resemble a fork lift with the tines in place of the fork lift’s regular forks. All of the constructive eating utensils are made in the USA, are completely dishwasher safe, contain zero phthalenes,  and have no moving parts (the wheels are for show). The size of the fork utensils are meant for young children’s hands and they have a handy rubberized grip so that hold the, is easy, even during energetic play.

The next utensil is the Front Loader Spoon:


Front Loaders are the big construction machines used to push large amounts of dirt or other material around. For the Front Loader Spoon the shovel has been replaced with a conventional spoon bowl!

One might expect the utensils to be “fork, spoon, knife” but the makers of Constructive Eating decided to do a little twist on things. Instead of a knife they actually made a utensil that kids would actually use. Anyone who has watch very young kids will know that the primary purpose of a knife for them is to push around the peas and other things on their plate. So why not make a utensil for that very purpose. Hence the Bull Dozer Pusher!


Instead of a knife blade, you have a Bull Dozer’s shovel to move things around. Those peas don’t stand a chance!

The utensils are great fun, of course, but they would be more enjoyable if there was some place to play with them. Taking them out into the sandbox seems a tad unsanitary to us, and a regular plate can be rather featureless, so for that end we have the Construction Plate:


The plate is as well designed and constructed as the utensils (Made in the USA, pfthalne free, etc). It has nice features such as a place for the utensils to rest.


A neat row of imprints around the outside.



The plate is sectioned off like a kids plate, but there is a special place for kids to bulldoze their food onto the fork or spoon!


Want to buy other toys for very young children?






Kristal Space Age Ant Habitat.

Ant Farms and Habitats are always a bit of a tricky area for us. Some folks consider them a standard but many customers tend to say ‘I don’t want ants in my house’. But you really can’t call yourself a science store without having some kind of Ant Habitat so we decided we would go with the best one on the market: The Kristal Space Age Ant Habitat.


Let’s get a couple things out of the way right off the top – this is a much more involved Ant Habitat kits that most. We looked over the reviews on this product and found the biggest complaint was the people did not expect to have to do anything to set up their ant farm.  The primary ‘complaint’ was that you had to make the gel. This does take some work and and old saucepan, but it does mean the child is involved in the setup much more than just dumping ants into a box with sand. Some folks cannot handle the extra work involved with this, so be warned.

Once you have made the gel, you can order your ants and plant the seeds. The included Basil seeds make this Ant Habitat really stand out. This makes the habitat have a real plant growth within the box.

Ants usually take about 2-4 weeks to arrive and the company Kristal has chosen seems to be a good one. Very few complaints about dead ants on arrival which has been an issue with some other Ant Habitats. The ants usually start digging right away or within a day or so. The gel is the ant’s food so they will probably start eating and making tunnels quite quickly.

The ants are not completely maintenance-free. The instructions suggest lifting the lid once a day.

The Habitat sits on top of a multi-colored LED light that gives the gel a nice glow. The light is battery driven and the batteries are not included, but there is a nice micro-USB port included so a better suggestion is to use an old micro-USB  phone adapter to power the light. You can also buy cell-button AG13 batteries to power it, but buying a micro-USB cord is probably more economical in the long run.

The Kirstal Ant Habitat is an excellent and involved science project for kids. It is an excellent way for kids to learn and see how ants live!

Want to buy the Space Age Ant Habitat?

Want to buy other educational insect products?



More MOVA Solar Powered Spinning Globes – The Rest of the Planets

We’ve already discussed the MOVA Solar Powered Spinning Globes in a previous entry, and covered the Blue Earth, Jupiter, and Moon versions of the globe. Now  we present the models that make much of the rest of the solar system. Let’s start with Mars:


The Red Planet shows excellent detail of valleys, craters, extinct volcanoes, and other incredible features of Mars’ surface.  As with other MOVA  models the globe gently spins with just a little bit of light -despite not showing any solar panels, batteries, or cords.  It will spin on or off the included base.

Next up is Venus


Venus shows the superheated and volatile nature of Earth’s sister planet. The surface is shown in red colored detail with the high albedo atmosphere stripped away.

Moving to the outer planets, we have a solar powered spinning globe of the ringed Gas Giant Saturn. Sadly, they were unable to make a ring on this model of Saturn. So instead the spinning striated surface is shown.


The final planet in this series of MOVA Solar Spinning Planets is Neptune. Neptune is a wee bit minimalistic but it does have some details that will show when it spins.


There are no plans for MOVA globes of Neptune and Mercury at this time, as far as we know.

The final piece in the astronomy series of MOVA globes (there will be more globes in the near future, but mostly Earth globes) is the spinning Constellations Globe.


Like any decent astronomy globe, the constellations are shown in their proper position in the night sky. An image of the Milky Way is shown on the model as well!

As always, the MOVA Solar Spinning Globes require no batteries or cords, and they all have FREE SHIPPING within the continental US.  Customers in HI, AK and PR should contact us for shipping costs.

Want to buy more Astronomy Items?


Weigh Boats

Let’s face it: This is not going to be the most exciting blog post we have done, but the subject matter is an item critical in many labs and our ability to supply folks with these items is how we make a living!

Digital Scales are a crucial part of any lab. They are accurate, reasonably priced, and have a host of features that help speed up the measuring process.


Trouble is, you can’t just put stiff right on top of the scale. It makes a mess and if the product is liquid it will spill everywhere. Kitchen scales solve this by having a built in bowl that comes with the scale, but lab scales & balances shouldn’t use such a thing as cross contamination is a bigger issue than it is in the kitchen. Its bad enough when baking powder gets mixed in with cake mix, but it gets real bad when something acidic mixes in with something that is base, or an Agar growing source, or any of thousands of other contamination issues. Keeping an included bowl clean can work for a while, but it is not a perfect solution as there may be lots of cleaning, drying and time consumed between measurements. Of course, one could use glass labware that is around the laboratory already. A few griffin beakers lying around can be used – simple tare out their weight and add the component to get the weight – but again these beakers would need to be washed thoroughly after use, and that can cost time. Another annoying issue is that some bits of powder or liquid can get stuck in the beaker when you try to pour it out after measuring and that can mess up measurements.


So what solution is there? Well an economical choice is actually to use Weigh Boats:

Square Boats CC

Weigh Boats are an excellent option for any laboratory that needs to do a lot of weighing on digital balances. They are antistatic so powders won’t ‘cling’ to the interior (unlike glass or plastic beakers). They are biologically inert so that no contamination will occur with biological materials. The corners are smooth and rounded so that materials will pour out easily and no trapping will occur. They also have flat bottoms so they do not tip over easily -an issue with much taller lab glassware.

Best of all from a speed perspective: Weigh boats are disposable! You place them on your digital scale, tare out their minimal weight (they are lightweight plastic), and the powder or liquid compound you are trying to measure. Then pour the compound out into whatever container you plan to use it in (or put it aside ‘at the ready’) then just throw away the boat! Since the weigh boats are sold in packs of 500, even the largest size costs just pennies to use!

As shown above, Weigh Boats come in Black or White, which is handy for contrast between the boat and the compound.

Weigh Boats also come in different shapes. The Square Boats (shown above) as well as diamond shaped boats:

Diamond BoatsCC

Diamond shaped weigh boats have the same properties as their square counterparts, but their shape provides a ‘funnel’ near the sharper corners that makes pouring out compounds even easier. This can be very useful when you are pouring compounds into containers with narrow mouths, such as Volumetric Flasks.

Like the square boats, the diamond boats are available in black or white.

Each shape and color has three different sizes. For square the sizes are 45mmx45mm, 80mmx80mm, and 140mmx140. The diamond shapes are 35mmx55mm, 65mmx85mm and 100mmx125mm. All are sold in packs of 500, except for the largest diamond size which is a pack of 250. Links to these all these weigh boats are below:

Square White Weigh Boats, 45mm x45mm, Holds 20ml, Pack of 500.$35

Square White Weigh Boats, 80mmx80mm, Holds 100ml, Pack of 500. $50

Square White Weigh Boats, 140mm x 140mm, Holds 250ml. Pack of 500. $85

Square Black Weigh Boats, 45mm x 45mm. Holds 20ml, Pack of 500. $35

Square Black Weigh Boats, 80mm x 80mm, Holds 100ml, Pack of 500 $50

Square Black Weigh Boats, 140mm x 140mm, Holds 250ml, Pack of 500 $85

Diamond White Weigh Boat 35mmx55mm, Holds 5ml Pack of 500 $35

Diamond White Weigh Boat 65mmx 85mm, Holds 30ml, Pack of 500 $50

Diamond White Weigh Boat 100mm x 125mm, Holds 100ml, Pack of 250 $42.50

Diamond Black Weigh Boat 35mm x 55mm, Holds 5ml, Pack of 500 $35

Diamond Black Weigh Boat 65mm x 85mm, Holds 30ml, Pack of 500 $50

Diamond Black Weigh Boat 100mm x 125mm, Holds 100ml, Pack of 250 $42.50

Want more Laboratory Disposables?









Starring in March only: COMET PanSTARRS

You may have already heard some buzz about Comet ISON, which has a very good chance of being a very bright and visible comet later this year (2013). But there is a decent chance that we have a preview naked-eye comet this month by the name of Comet PanSTARRS


PanSTARRS will make its closest approach to Earth (about 93 million miles) tomorrow – but it really will not be visible despite being at its closest state. Only a couple days later will it creep up over the Western horizon after sunset. On or about March 10th will it start to develop its ‘tail’. In the middle of the Month, the Comet should truly be visible. At time the Moon might interfere. PanSTARRS should be visible in the Western skyline for much of the rest of March.


The brightness of PanSTARR is estimated to be about as bright as a star in the Big Dipper. So if you can see the Big Dipper in your night sky, PanSTARR should be visible – albeit more streaky as a comet is want to be.

All of this comet discussion comes with a caveat – COMETS ARE VERY HARD TO PREDICT. A wise astronomer once said ” Comets are like cats – they have tails and do exactly as they please”. Many a comet has done something unexpected resulting in disspointing viewing: breaking up, not have the right tail orientation, etc. On the other hand, it could be even brighter than expected (-1 magnitude, not quite as bright as Sirius).

But hey, if you are out on a clear March night, it won’t hurt to glance Westward.

These links might have more information for your viewing enjoyment:



Universe Today