You Mix It: Secret Formula Lab (SMARTLAB)
Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone
SMARTLAB (2007)
ISBN 9781932855500
Reviewed by Ben (age 10) and Evan (age 7) Weldon for Reader Views (1/09)

“You Mix It: Secret Formula Lab” by SMARTLAB is a science kit that includes some equipment and a book with instructions for doing fifteen different projects.  The kit looked really exciting when we first got it, but when we opened it up it wasn’t even close to meeting our expectations.

The book, “Mix-A-Lot,” is really just an instruction manual for the fifteen projects.  There are a few sidebars about historical or scientific information but that’s about all.  The projects are fairly classic science projects (making bubble solution, invisible ink, growing yeast, testing for acids and bases).  About a quarter of the projects have an extra twist because you can make them glow with the glow powder (for example, glow dough).  The instructions were clear but the book provided little scientific information about how the ingredients worked to make the final product.

The kit includes a small, awkwardly-shaped beaker, a hollow stir stick, a tiny funnel, a test tube grabber, and three test tubes with nicely sealing caps and a stand.  The only “ingredient” included in the kit is a tiny packet of glow-in-the-dark powder.  The rest of the required ingredients are supposed to be household items, but we did not have all the items at our house (for example red cabbage, grape juice, unflavored gelatin etc.).  It was frustrating to use the equipment in the kit:  the tiny beaker was nearly impossible to clean; the stir stick broke but it had so much gunk stuck in the tube that it really wasn’t useful anyway; the funnel was too small; and there was not enough glow powder to adequately do all the experiments (that is, if you really want the stuff to glow so you could see it without squinting).

I would recommend “You Mix It: Secret Formula Lab” by SMARTLAB for kids ages seven to fourteen.  I would not recommend this for a birthday or Christmas present because the recipient might be really disappointed to open it and then not have all the ingredients for any of the experiments.  It definitely would not be a good item for kids to share because you can’t make large enough quantities and there is not enough glow powder to go around.  Also, many of the experiments require an adult’s help.  So, if you get this kit, be ready to head off to the grocery store and then spend some time researching why these projects work.

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