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she blinded me with science

5th Grader Accidentally Makes Explosive in Class, Gets Co-Authorship on Subsequent Paper

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.

(story via Skepchick, pic via Humbolt State University.)


  • Anonymous

    Wow! I think the coolest part of this is that her teacher took her so seriously! Great teacher!

  • Terence Ng

    So, so cool!

  • Ryan ‘Quavey’ Havers

    Thats awesome. :D

  • Lisa M. Hayes

    Now THIS is awesome! Not just for Clara’s success, but also for the adults who DID THE RIGHT THING. SO rare!

  • Anonymous

    All arguments comparing “your simple experiments” to Tinkertoys are now null and void.

    For God’s sake, do not let her near an Erector set.

  • John Wao

    Out of the mouth (and minds) of babes….

  • Anonymous

    That’s amazing. What a great experience for Clara, whatever comes of it.

  • Mike Perry

    Someone is going to take this as a premise for a tv series (ala Doogie Howser).

    Seriously, though, this is awesome. I’m actually rather impressed at the whole thing.

  • Francesca M

    Tiny geniuses.. they terrify me and make me happy. All kidding aside it sounds like she found something that could be really beneficial! Go her!

  • Alisa Kraut

    I hope she grows up to be scientist (or a teacher) just because of this experience.

  • Glenn Buettner

    Great teachers make a world of difference.  Smart girl, and a great teacher to recognize it.

  • Alex Henley

    if i had this teacher, i may have actually liked chemistry in school.

  • Patrick Elliott-Brennan

    Fantastic story.

  • Anonymous

    It just goes to show that there are new things to be discovered all around us!
    And *anyone* can do it ─ all you need to be is “charged up”!
    It’s got a beauty all its own . . .

  • Raven

    No pictures of the girl, but only pictures of the teacher? wtf?

  • Steven

    Do not underestimate children. Their minds have not learned limits. Edwin Land invented the polaroid camera as a result of his 5 year-old niece demanding to know why she couldn’t see the pictures he took (with a conventional camera) right away. 

  • Jonathan Acosta


  • Szczepan Hołyszewski

    Another one from the “Little Girl Will Bring World Peace” department. “Y’know, it’s like I could sell this to the military for money and… heheh…”, the girl said, and her teacher commented, “Clara, when she latches onto an idea, she wants to go with it”.

  • Niranjana Nair

    i sincerely hope the molecule is not ever made… we dont want yet another hydrogen bomb or dynamite or watsoevr… this world is a dangerous place where no man wil put the invention for good purposes.. just destruction destruction and more destruction

  • Christina Lee Countryman

    Since the batteries to store solar energy are one of the obstacles to really getting solar everywhere this could be a big breakthrough

  • Anonymous

    The worst part of this story is that this is a child of a heterosexual couple.

  • Jacki Gardenhire

    Humboldt State University… you spelled it wrong…
    Go Jacks!

  • Anonymous

    Why we recommend you the man in military? The reason is simple: They are
    not only dependable, but also romantic. They are brave and strong but also warm
    in heart. Now it’s a new year, find your strong and warm
    arms for a new beginning at —- uniformedkiss*c’o’m —-


  • Mark Alexander

    Things that make you go Boom!

  • Fran Simmons

    I wouldn’t want my 5th grader’s picture making the rounds worldwide.

  • Larry Sheldon

    This obviously predates the Eggo Pistol is a felony craze.

    Nice catch, teach.