Kit 13: Kaleidoscope

[Note: There is no review for kit 12 at this time.]

Kit #13: Kaleidoscope (2100 yen). Not all Gakken kits are made of the same high-quality materials. Or, it might be that some of the materials degrade faster over time than others do. In any case, this kit (and the planetarium) had a part that shattered too easily. The light bulb for this kit also burned out within 12 hours of assembling it, which was about 15 minutes of actual use, but fortunately I could find a grocery store that carried spare bulbs pretty easily. It cost about 120 yen ($1.50 USD) for a package of 2 replacement bulbs.

Kaleidoscopes are generally very straight-forward things, conceptually – three mirrors facing each other, with bright sparklies at one end and a protected eye piece at the other. Aim at a light source, rotate the container of sparklies, and you get to see very elaborate, complex patterns, regardless of how simple or plain the sparklies themselves might be. Of course, the first step at making the kaleidoscope more interesting is to just fancy up the outer case, adding external design work, or making the case out of brass or other materials. The next step is to change the mirrors, either making them taper to an angle at one end, or form them into a box with the aperture in the middle of one side, and the eye hole in an opposite corner. What Gakken did was to turn their kaleidoscope into a projector, putting batteries and a lamp into the base unit, and adding lenses at the end of the tube to focus the light either on a nearby sheet of paper or on the far wall. There’s also an option to look directly into the thing ala a microscope. The kit has about 20 parts and took 90 minutes to build.

For this kit, the sparklies consist of some small colored beads and glitter placed in a clear plastic tube. The suspension liquid could be plain water, while Gakken suggests adding a little wood glue and sugar syrup as thickeners. I tried their suggestion, and the result was an ugly cloudy mess that I just tossed out right away. Instead, I went with straight artificial sweetener syrup, which works fine. The problem was that when I put the end cap in the tube as instructed, part of the end of the tube broke off. Fortunately, the break wasn’t so bad as to make the tube useless; I just wrapped the end up in heavy tape and there’s been only a very small amount of leaking. I also picked up some wide-body clear plastic pen cases so I could try some of the other suggested sparklies (which include using colorful flowers, cooking ingredients, insulated wire, stone fragments and even small insects), but my results didn’t look anything like the pictures in the mook. The kit’s fairly small and easy to store when not in use.

The mook contains a biography on Sir David Brewster, who wrote the book on kaleidoscopes in 1816, and received a patent for his design in 1817, although the idea was previously known to the ancient Greeks. There are examples of various kaleidoscope designs and products (with plans for making them yourself), plus explanations of optics and how kaleidoscopes work. There’s a section on how to build Gakken’s 3-vacuum tube radio, as well as a look at Zeno’s Paradoxes. Another article shows the construction of Tokyo Tower, and part of the city’s skyline, while there’s also a story on Niels Bohr (who visited Japan in 1937). There aren’t as many DIY projects this time, but some of the examples of combining art with physics are easy to replicate (such as the anamorphic paintings, which are woefully under-appreciated in the U.S.) Both the kit and mook are worth getting if you like bright sparkly things.

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