Amateur chemistry

Amateur chemistry or home chemistry is the pursuit of chemistry as a private hobby.[1] Amateur chemistry is usually done with whatever chemicals are available at disposal at the privacy of one's home. It should not be confused with clandestine chemistry, which involves the illicit production of controlled drugs.[a] Notable amateur chemists include Oliver Sacks and Sir Edward Elgar.[2][3]



Amateur chemistry shares its early history with that of chemistry in general. Pioneers of modern chemistry such as Robert Boyle and Antoine Lavoisier were gentlemen scientists who pursued their research independently from their source of income.[4][5] Only with the coming of the industrial era, and the rise of universities as research institutions, did any significant distinction between amateurs and professionals emerge. Nevertheless, amateur progress lasted well into the 19th century. For example, in 1886, Charles Martin Hall co-invented the Hall-Héroult process for extracting aluminium from its oxide whilst working in a woodshed behind his family home.[6] The history of amateur chemistry ties in well with that of chemistry in general. The history of chemistry represents a time span from ancient history to the present. By 1000 BC, civilizations used technologies that would eventually form the basis to the various branches of chemistry. These processes include extracting metals from ores, making pottery and glazes, fermenting beer and wine, extracting chemicals from plants for medicine and perfume, rendering fat into soap, making glass, and making alloys like bronze.

Chemistry as a hobby

Throughout much of the 20th century, amateur chemistry was an unexceptional hobby, with high-quality chemistry sets readily available, and laboratory suppliers freely selling to hobbyists. For example, Linus Pauling had no difficulty in procuring potassium cyanide at the age of eleven.[2] However, due to increasing concerns about terrorism, drugs, and safety, suppliers became increasingly reluctant to sell to amateurs, and chemistry sets were steadily toned down.[7] This trend has gradually continued, leaving hobbyists in many parts of the world without access to most reagents.[8]

Notable amateur chemists


Whilst the hobby is probably legal in most jurisdictions,[b] the relationship between amateur chemists and law enforcement agencies is often fraught. Hobbyists are often affected by laws intended to fight drugs and terrorism. Furthermore, many chemical supply houses refuse to sell to amateurs, with such policies sometimes being stated openly.[16][17][failed verification]


In Canada, a wide range of basic laboratory reagents such as nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide are restricted as "explosives precursors".[18]

European Union

Explosives precursors: Regulation (EU) No. 98/2013[19] Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006[20] Regulation (EU) 2019/1148[21]

Drug precursors: Regulation (EC) No 273/2004[22] Regulation (EC) No 111/2005[23]


German amateur chemists have been raided by the police, despite not being in the possession of illegal chemicals.[24][25]

United Kingdom

In the UK it is a criminal offence for members of the general public to purchase, and for business to sell, certain types of poisons or explosives precursors to those of the former group without a valid EPP license.[26] Purchasing substances on this list is restricted since 26 May 2015, and its possession is also restricted since 3 March 2016.[27] Since July 1st 2018, the acquisition of sulphuric acid in concentrations above 15% in weight by members of the general public also requires an EPP licence, which has impacted lead-acid battery sellers.[28][29]

Some regulations regarding restricted chemicals in this country include the Poison Act 1972, which was amended by the Deregulation Act 2015, and the Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2015[30].[27]

United States

In the United States, some regions have stringent regulations concerning the ownership of chemicals and equipment. For example, Texas once required the registration of even the most basic laboratory glassware.[31] However, this requirement was repealed on June 6, 2019.[32]

United Nuclear, an amateur science supplier based in New Mexico was raided in June 2003 at the behest of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,[1] and subsequently fined $7,500 for "Selling Illegal Fireworks Components".[33]

In 2008, the home laboratory of Victor Deeb, a retired chemist, was raided and dismantled[34][35][36]

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration maintains lists regarding the classification of illicit drugs, which contain chemicals that are used to manufacture the controlled substances/illicit drugs. The lists are designated within The Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 802, paragraphs 34 (list I) and 35 (list II).

See also


  • a. ^ The terms "amateur chemistry" and "clandestine chemistry" are not rigidly defined, and may depend upon context. For clarity, this article defines "amateur chemistry" to be the practice of chemistry as a hobby, and not as the means to an illegal end. While clandestine chemistry is often amateur chemistry, not all amateur chemistry is clandestine chemistry.
  • b. ^ The legal status of amateur chemistry per se is somewhat ambiguous. Whilst there appears to be no legislation explicitly banning the activity, there is also little evidence to confirm its legality.


  1. ^ a b c Silberman, Steve (June 2006), Don't Try This at Home, Wired Magazine, retrieved 2008-07-18
  2. ^ a b c Sacks, Oliver (2001), Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-375-40448-1
  3. ^ a b Weintraub, Stanley, "Shaws's Musician: Edward Elgar" (PDF), Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies (Requires subscription), retrieved 2008-07-21
  4. ^ Rosenfeld, Louis (1999), Four Centuries of Clinical Chemistry, Taylor and Francis, ISBN 90-5699-645-2
  5. ^ University of Wisconsin - General Chemistry - The Law of Conservation of Mass, archived from the original on 2008-06-24, retrieved 2008-07-19
  6. ^ Emsley, John (2001), Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, pp. 451–53, ISBN 0-19-850341-5
  7. ^ Fuscaldo, Donna (2007-12-11), The Grinch Who Stole the Chemistry Set, Fox Business, archived from the original on 2007-12-14, retrieved 2008-07-19
  8. ^ Houlton, Sarah. "Hobby chemists". Chemistry World. The Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  9. ^ Goertzel (1995), Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00672-8
  10. ^ Theodore Gray's website, retrieved 2008-07-18
  11. ^ Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, retrieved 2008-07-18
  12. ^ Theodore Gray's website: 2002 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry, retrieved 2008-07-18
  13. ^ Popular Science: Gray Matter column, retrieved 2008-07-18
  14. ^ Hickam, Homer (1998), Rocket Boys: A Memoir, Delacorte Press, ISBN 0-385-33320-X
  15. ^ Sir Edward William Elgar; Amateur Chemist-Composer (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-03, retrieved 2008-08-10
  16. ^ Timstar Laboratory Suppliers Ltd: Ordering information, archived from the original on 2008-05-09, retrieved 2008-07-18
  17. ^ Stratlab Web Shop - Laboratory Supplies - Chemicals and reagents, archived from the original on 2012-02-16, retrieved 2008-08-10CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  18. ^ Natural Resources Canada: New Regulations Tighten Controls on Restricted Chemicals, Marketwire, 2008-05-19, retrieved 2008-08-08
  19. ^ Regulation (EU) No 98/2013 of 15 January 2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors
  20. ^ Regulation (EU) No 1907/2006 of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC
  21. ^ Regulation (EU) No 2019/1148 of 20 June 2019 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors, amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 98/2013
  22. ^ Regulation (EU) No 273/2004 of 11 February 2004 on drug precursors
  23. ^ Regulation (EU) No 111/2005 of 2 December 2004 laying down rules for the monitoring of trade between the Union and third countries in drug precursors
  24. ^ Winsemann, Bettina (2008-08-02), Von Chemikalien, Aquarianern, Sprengstoffen und Drogen (in German), Telepolis, retrieved 2008-08-08
  25. ^ Winsemann, Bettina (2008-12-21), Terrorfahndung in Kinderzimmern] (in German), Telepolis, retrieved 2008-08-08
  26. ^ "Licensing for home users of poisons and explosive precursors". GOV.UK. 3 April 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  27. ^ a b "Supplying explosives precursors and poisons". GOV.UK. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  28. ^ "Important UK Announcement: New regulations will change the way motorcycle batteries can be sold". Yuasa. 1 August 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  29. ^ "Important: New Regulations on the Sale of Motorbike Batteries". Leoch Battery UK. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  30. ^ "The Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2015". Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  31. ^ Texas Administrative Code: Title 37, Public Safety And Corrections; Part 1, Texas Department Of Public Safety; Chapter 13, Controlled Substances; Subchapter E, Precursors And Apparatus, archived from the original on 2009-01-07, retrieved 2008-07-19
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ "New Mexico Company Fined, Ordered To Stop Selling Illegal Fireworks Components" (PDF) (Press release). Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2006-07-18.
  34. ^ Dayal, Priyanka (9 August 2008). "Chemist allowed to go home, sans his lab". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  35. ^ Austin, Jim (13 August 2008). "Don't Try This at Home". Science Careers Blog. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  36. ^ Halford, Bethany (10 November 2008). "Underground Science". Chemical & Engineering News: Science & Technology. American Chemical Society. Retrieved 11 November 2020.

Further reading

  • Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments; 1st Ed; Robert Thompson; 432 pages; 2008; ISBN 978-0596514921.
  • Chemistry in the Home; 1st Ed; Henry Weed; 385 pages; 1915.

External links

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