Good Thinking

Child creates molecule that could be used for energy storage or explosives

Prof. Robert Zoellner, with a model of the molecule created by ten year-old Clara Lazen
Prof. Robert Zoellner, with a model of the molecule created by ten year-old Clara Lazen
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Prof. Robert Zoellner, with a model of the molecule created by ten year-old Clara Lazen
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Prof. Robert Zoellner, with a model of the molecule created by ten year-old Clara Lazen

I don't know about other people, but when I was a child, I was inventing things such as a musical instrument made out of a folded piece of cardboard and some rubber bands. Ten year-old Clara Lazen, however, has done something a little more noteworthy. The fifth-grader from Kansas City, Missouri, built a model of a molecule that is new to science. If the molecule itself were to actually be created, it could possibly be used for energy storage, or in explosives.

Lazen built the model out of balls representing oxygen, nitrogen and carbon atoms, as part of a science exercise at Border Star Montessori School. When her creation was spied by her teacher, Kenneth Boehr, he emailed a photo of it to his friend Robert Zoellner, a chemistry professor at California's Humboldt State University. Zoellner in turn checked the Chemical Abstracts online database, and determined that Lazen's model was unique - although a previously-archived molecular model did incorporate the same formula as Clara's, its atoms were arranged differently.

Dubbed tetranitratoxycarbon, Clara's molecule contains the same combination of atoms as nitroglycerin, and according to Zoellner, could potentially be used to store energy or create a large explosion. A paper on his findings, listing Lazen and Boehr as co-authors, was published last month in the journal Computational and Theoretical Chemistry.

Source: Humboldt State University via Skepchick

18 comments
hourglass
brilliant, ms lazen, just astounding, really ... energy storage breakthroughs are sorely needed to wean us off fossils. too bad the energy mafia will see to it that explosives get all the research (taxpayer) dollars.
Kradak
Nitratoxy? Never heard of it. 1,1,1-bicyclo anything compounds are unstable; put four of them in one place, and you\'ll find it is much easier to make in silico than in vitrio. Now, I\'m not sayin\', but good luck to the researchers on this one. Make sure that your fifth-grader is wearing closed-toe shoes when she starts synthetic work. Explosives are a great inspiration for time immemorial. Highly dense oxidant/fuel combinations will certainly make for a good fuel source, if it can be extracted in a controlled fashion.
Brian Brehart
@hourglass - some of the greatest inventions in history became viable products because of the desire to weaponize them. As long as money gets put into the project, there\'s nothing to say that both explosives and energy storage wouldn\'t get research time, especially if they both benefit the military.
Matthew Harden
When later asked about the new molecule, Clara stated, \"I thought I was making a pony.\"
Burnerjack
Matt, that was the cover that Leon Panetta gave her....
famousperon
It was a 1 in 10,000,000 shot that someone recognized it and was willing to research it. I wonder how many other discoveries are out there that never get seen. In any event, good for Clara!
Anona Mous
So she made an arrangement of balls and straws that the scientists hadn\'t thought of before... makes her a chemical engineering genius. Noteworthy, good for her, but she\'s still just a fifth-grader. Are you smarter than a fifth-grader? Maybe we should be giving all our elementary school kids some molecular puzzle sets and checking their results into the molecular database. Isn\'t there an app for that?
PatrikD
\"Child creates molecule\" is a gross miscarriage of journalism. The child put together a bunch of balls and sticks to resemble a pony. I think all the credit goes to the teacher (and the prof he consulted with) for realizing the child\'s doodle could actually be an interesting molecule. If you have an infinite number of monkeys typing, you still need a patient English major wading through all of it to be able to find Shakespeare\'s Hamlet among all the gibberish...
Ruth Butler
funny, Matt. I see the pony too.
David Brown
If this molecule was created by a 10 year old, why is some bearded bloke in the photo and not the child?