5th Grader Accidentally Makes Explosive in Class, Gets Co-Authorship on Subsequent Paper
by Susana Polo | 11:46 am, February 1st, 2012
Kenneth Boehr wasn’t expecting more than the usual from his ten-year-old students when he started a lesson on the Periodic table and handed out the molecule modeling kits. Then Clara Lazen handed him a model constructed from oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon atoms, and asked if she’d made a real chemical or not. Boehr found himself stumped. So he took a cellphone picture of the whole deal, and sent it to an old college buddy: Robert Zoellner, professor of chemistry at Humbolt State University.
Turns out, Clara had, in fact, put together an entirely new, but viable molecule. And on top of that, if it can be synthesized, it has the potential to store energy, opening up some pretty wide applications.
Zoellner ran the molecular makeup of the molecule through a few scientific article databases and did his own digging, and has “determined” that Clara’s molecule is totally unique. Tetrakis(nitratoxycarbon) methane, or tetranitratoxycarbon, “has the potential to store energy. The dense structure allows for stable energy storage meaning the molecule can be used to produce energy or as an explosive.” However, it would have to be synthesized first, a procedure beyond the equipment of Humbolt University’s chemistry program.
So, since Zoellner couldn’t make the substance himself, he did the next best scientifically valid thing: he wrote a paper (to be published in Computational and Theoretical Chemistry) on the molecule’s structure and content and his research into its possible uses, so that other scientists could continue his ideas. And, of course, he credited Clara as a co-author.
What does Clara think of all this? “Most 10- or 11-year-olds don’t get their names in a science paper,” she says, and, according to Zoellner, has a renewed interest in science, particularly biology and medicine. And if any money comes her way because of her discovery, she says she’ll be sure to share with Boehr and Zoellner, the teachers who took her scientific questions seriously.