This past week I was taking my usual trip through my local Value Village thrift store when I came upon something really rather cool that I wanted to share with you guys. Tucked at the back of a shelf in the toy section I found this Young Scientist 320 Projects Lab. I was shocked when I opened it up to find this kit not only to be in working condition but that most if not all of the components were still present in the box, including the numerous IC chips (more on them later). I decided for 6.99 Canadian how could I lose and brought the project lab home for to try it out.
I’ve only been able to find very limited information on the 320 projects kit or the Young Scientist brand itself. For this reason I can’t say exactly when it was released or the products history but based on the “Laptop PC styled” case and the windows 95-esc graphics on the lid I would assume the kit came out some time in the mid to late 90s.
I have played with a number of other electronic kits through my life and generally have mixed feelings about them. Kits like Snap Circuits or many Radio Shack’s 200 in one, 150 in 1 ect. offer a great introduction to circuits and basic components, however they always left me wanting. Once you have completed the projects designed for the kit there is nothing left to do and the box finds itself gathering dust. Though the knowledge you gain through these projects is invaluable there is no easy way to transition from them into further electronics work.
The Young Scientist 320 Project Kit seems to have a slightly different philosophy. The usual spring connectors we know from Radio Shack kits are present but they are secondary. They are organized around a breadboard placed dead in the center of the kit. This kit uses standard through hole components the same as the ones you would use in any hobby electronics project. This means you can build and solder together any project from the kit onto protoboard and also build essentially any electronic circuit within the kit. Further within the instruction manual it encourages “Young Scientists” to expand their component collections and even gives some basic instructions for salvaging parts.
Another exciting feature of this kit can be found on the breadboard and that is the power supply. The power rail of this breadboard is split into 6 sections providing easy access to a full range of common voltages (1.5, 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5 and 9).
The kit also included a number of IC chips. Again these are standard through hole components the same as you would use in any hobby project. There was no surprise in finding the hobbyist heavyweight 555 timer along with some standard op-amp and amplifier chips but I was pleased to discover the set also contained a fairly complete array of digital logic gates, counters and decoders. The inclusion of these digital components allows for some extremely complex builds towards the end of the project book including Function Generators, Logic Probes, various games and Octave Generators (just to name a few).
As an adult with hobby electronics experience I am loving this kit but I should say in closing that it is not for everyone. The decision to use standard through hole components and a breadboard makes this a far more versatile project lab than others I have worked with and allows for the construction of far more complex projects but it is a double edged knife. If you are an absolute beginner to electronics the smaller more fiddly parts can be confusing or challenging to work with and the level of difficulty in many of the projects could be discouraging. For this reason this is lab is likely better suited to someone with some knowledge of electronics, components, resistor codes ect. Still, If you have some basic knowledge or are up for the challenge, a project lab like this one can be a great way to build your skill level and play with hundreds of new and interesting circuits.