Friday, January 04, 2013

The Early Days - Science Fair 150-in-One Kit

Radio Shack is now closed (I will miss being able to run out and get that one last part). But their electronics kits can still be found on eBay. Additionally it appears that the Radio Shack kits were built by Elenco who still sells electronic kits along with many other innovative toys and educational devices.

How I Got Started

I was in the 6th grade when I first experimented with electronics using the Science Fair 150-in-One Project Kit sold by RadioShack. I was fascinated with high-voltage, light sensors and generating sound. For some reason I had little luck with the radio experiments, I suspect that I never set up the antenna properly. The night-light and siren experiments were especially fun.

My first off-board project was a pocket hand-shake shocker. I built the shocker by taking one of the High-Voltage Generators (I believe it was #44) and building it on a piece of cardboard. I carried the battery pack in the pocket of my blue-jean jacket and ran the wires down my sleeve. I was around 10 years old at the time. It really got your attention. For added effect, put each lead in it's own glass of water and then dip your fingers in the water. My Dad jumped very high the first and only time I got him to try the fingers in the water trick. Thanks for not grounding/beating me for that one Dad! Water gives you a great skin electrical connection!

I eventually graduated to the Forrest M. Mims III Engineer's Notebook and building circuits on the white bread-boards. I used the bread-boards and books for years (and still do). These experiments provided a base for my interest and understanding of electronics. A great place to start today is the Mims book "Getting Started in Electronics" which is still available at Amazon.

Flashback and the Manual

I recently wanted to repeat a couple of my early high-voltage experiments so I purchased the newest kit at RadioShack. I was disappointed to find that the high-voltage experiments had been removed from the kit. I suspect not for any actual safety concern but more for political correctness and to avoid baseless lawsuits. So I went searching online for a reference to the old circuits in the kits. I was surprised that the manuals were not available online. With no other options, I went to eBay to purchase a one of the long ago kits. The 150-in-One kit was not available when I looked, but the 160-in-One kit appears to be of similar vintage. The kit was in great shape and brought back memories.

I wanted to share the manual so I went about scanning and converting to pdf. To facilitate scanning, I took the manual to a local copy shop had them trim the spine from the manual using a stack paper trimmer, I believe charged me $0.50 for the service. Then it was mostly just feeding a small stack of pages at a time into my Fujitsu Scansnap S300 scanner. I scanned the pages in black and white but wanted color for the cover which required combining two pdf files. But most of the effort required was addressing the odd double feed which caused skipped pages. I believe it turned out well. Below is the resulting manual in pdf format.

Science Fair 160-in-One Electronic Project Kit Manual

Electronic kits not only help you lean electronics but provide a quick and easy way to test circuit ideas and are a great option if you do not keep a well stocked parts bin. Combining circuits from an electronics kit with an Arduino and you are quickly well beyond what most will ever understand of controllers and electronics. I hope you go build something fun!