Soft science

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I went to visit my sister recently, and her daughter has a toy pancreas. No, really! For a children’s toy, it’s pretty non-descript: it’s similar in shape and size to a yellow squash, but (I think) has a little face on it. Somehow, I am not able to enlighten you with a picture (the all-powerful internet has failed me), so you’ll have to imagine it. Not only is it funny that she plays with it in general, but that she, at 4 years old, could quite happily request it. “Mom! I want my pancreas!” or “Mom! Jack took my pancreas!” Actually, it’s starting to sound like an episode of ER

Hospital dramas aside, I also knew about these stuffed microbes, which are equally hilarious. I think what’s happening is that someone who feels very strongly about increasing the numbers of scientists in the US (or anywhere, really) has decided that targeting high school students is not working. The kids are already turned off to science at that point. So, they think, let’s start earlier. Get these 4-year olds to appreciate the difference between the Ebola virus and sleeping sickness! Get them to love their kidneys, and we’ll have a new generation of microbiologists and doctors ready to go. Even the physicists have their mascot

In all this, though, I wonder: where are the chemists? I did find a Marie Curie finger puppet, but I think we need to step it up in order to really promote chemistry among our kindergarteners. The problem, of course, is to identify chemistry-related items that could be translated into plush toys. Individual atoms may be difficult to make interesting, since they would all be quite similar. What about glassware? Wouldn’t every child love a stuffed round bottom flask? I think molecules would also work, but manufacturers might balk at all the little pieces…

What do you think would make a good toy? And, more importantly, what have I done with my pancreas?…

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)