Cast a Mini Aluminum Skillet - Start to Finish

This actually happened a while ago but I just got around to posting the video.  I used a small cast iron skillet as a mold to make an aluminum skillet from melted-down vacuum cleaner parts.  Amazing!  A cast vacuum cleaner from the 1960s becomes a fully functional skillet useful for camping or making eggs.

I thought it would be helpful to explain how to do metal casting rather than only showing the pouring of the molten aluminum, so there are tips throughout the video aimed at those beginning casting.

MEL Science Chemistry Kits Review

Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated for this review, other than MEL Science generously sending me two free chemistry experiment kits along with their starter kit.

With the disclaimer out of the way, let's begin the review!  The basic concept is that upon subscription to MEL Science, they send you two chemistry kits each month.  You can then do experiments at home without needing to buy everything individually.
My first impression was that everything in the kit was well packed.  I did not find anything broken or damaged, and all the glassware was neatly padded so as to make breaking nearly impossible.  The starter kit has some good beginning materials - disposable plastic beakers (no more beaker-scrubbing!), a solid fuel stove, some glassware, etc.  It also has an instruction booklet on using the kits along with a detailed website that discusses the chemistry going on behind the scenes in the experiments.

The experiments themselves are on a variety of topics - I was sent one on combustion (The Chemistry of Monsters) and one on electrochemistry/redox reactions (Tin).  I enjoyed that the kits didn't require a lot of set-up work.  There wasn't anything to weigh out, plug in, or lay out.  In perhaps five minutes' time, I was doing actual experiments.

The tin dendrites experiment seemed to work well.  The dendrites grew beautifully, and the included macro lens took some stunning shots with my iPad 4 (sadly the MEL Science app does not support the iPad 4).

I tried one other experiment for the video, the sugar snake experiment from The Chemistry of Monsters.  As seen in the video, the hexamine solid fuel didn't quite fill the included mold, so its depression didn't hold all the sugar/sodium bicarbonate mix and the snake didn't work as well as pictured on the MEL website.  That was a small disappointment, but the sugar snake was still quite an intriguing experiment.  This simply shows that you may get different results as you try the experiments

In general, the MEL Science experiments seem to be "real"/unadulterated chemistry - they do dangerous and unique things like lighting off a Zn/S mixture and also have complicated concepts such as concentration cells.  They are meant to be suitable for most ages, so they won't be a substitute for a rigorous class in chemistry.  If, however, you are looking to explore, enjoy, and learn some unique chemistry, a subscription to MEL Science may be what you're looking for.

Experiment 65: Manganese Thermite from Batteries

A while ago, in Experiment 46: Manganese Dioxide Thermite, I attempted to make manganese metal for my element collection using thermite with manganese dioxide scavenged from batteries.  The experiment failed.  The batteries simply have too many contaminants (carbon, zinc oxide, etc.) to sustain a thermite reaction.

After reading some posts on, I determined which steps would need to be taken to purify the manganese dioxide.  I first washed the manganese-containing battery paste with water and vinegar, then dissolved everything in HCl.  I filtered off my now-MnCl2 solution from the carbon, but it was contaminated with iron.  NurdRage's selective precipitation procedure came in handy for resolving that issue, and finally, I got a pretty pink solution - pure MnCl2!

I added NaOH to that solution to make manganese hydroxide, which oxidizes rapidly in air to Mn2O3, an oxide suitable for thermite.  After baking my hydroxide slush in the oven to help along the oxidation, I mixed my Mn2O3 with aluminum powder and lit it using a magnesium ribbon.  Unlike my previous manganese thermite attempts, this one violently flared up and reacted quite vigorously.
 Even better, I recovered some very beautiful shiny lumps of manganese metal.  While the thermite only gave a 23% yield on account of being so violent, it added another element to my collection, which is something to celebrate for sure.