All the University of California, Davis' Jonathan Eisen needed when he was little was a magnifying glass. "We would just go out and look at ants and roly-polies. Being able to see things close up was very cool," he tells The New York Times. The Times asked a handful of scientists about what toys they remembered from their childhoods. While Eisen was out looking at bugs, other researchers were playing with chemistry sets or Legos.
"I did everything with Lego blocks," Caltech astronomer Mike Brown recalls, later adding: "My brother and I would try to make traps we would try to spring on each other. By 12 or 13, I was blowing up things with firecrackers and calcium carbide. At one point I gave myself second-degree burns on my arms."
In a separate article, the Times details the history of the chemistry set, from its start as a school supply for university students in the 1700s in England to their peak in the 1940s and 1950s. "At the time, science and scientists were held in the highest esteem, and chemistry sets were perhaps the first toys marketed to American parents as a way to help their children succeed," the Times writes.
With the environmental movement in the 1960s and the start of the Consumer Product safety commission in the 1970s, the number of chemistry sets declined, but they began coming back to the shelves as "kitchen chemistry" sets, the Times adds. Other sets today make slime or "Insta-snow."