Thames & Kosmos; US $49.95;
This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on IEEE SPECTRUM'S 2009 Holiday Gift Guide
The centuries-old practice of using moving water to do work is now enjoying a resurgence as the world weans itself of fossil fuels. Enterprising kids can bring hydropower to their Lego and other playroom constructions by building the Hydropower Renewable Energy Science Kit, by Thames & Kosmos.
This kit, the latest in a line of hands-on guides to alternative energy, is billed for kids 8 and up. Earlier kits include Wind Power, Fuel Cell, Power House, and Global Warming.
There are tubes and straws for some fun experiments involving water towers and fountains that you can make from plastic bottles. But the main events are three different toy mills built around a water wheel. One moves a "saw" back and forth, one repeatedly lifts a "hammer" a few inches and drops it, and the third—the coolest—creates enough electricity inside a small DC generator to light a red LED.
Each experiment took about an hour of assembly and debugging time—mostly the latter, as even older folks will look at the pictorial instructions and scratch their heads over exactly where the anchor pin or gear-shaft rod should go. One more slight criticism: The single electronic component could have been a little less flimsy.
That said, when the hydropower station was finally working and the bathtub water turned on, this reviewer and his 3-year-old were thrilled to see that tiny red diode light up—a beacon of sustainable power for the next generation.
About the Author
Mark Anderson is an author and science writer based in Northampton, Mass. Recently he's been catching up on his reading. Check out his reviews of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World and Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age.