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

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February 6, 2012

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

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

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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17 Comments

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.

hourglass
7th February, 2012 @ 02:15 am PST

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.

Kradak
7th February, 2012 @ 03:34 am PST

@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.

Brian Brehart
7th February, 2012 @ 08:21 am PST

When later asked about the new molecule, Clara stated, "I thought I was making a pony."

Matthew Harden
7th February, 2012 @ 08:25 am PST

Matt, that was the cover that Leon Panetta gave her....

Burnerjack
7th February, 2012 @ 09:56 am PST

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!

famousperon
7th February, 2012 @ 10:48 am PST

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?

Anona Mous
7th February, 2012 @ 10:49 am PST

"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...

PatrikD
7th February, 2012 @ 10:51 am PST

funny, Matt. I see the pony too.

Ruth Bilowus Butler
7th February, 2012 @ 11:50 am PST

If this molecule was created by a 10 year old, why is some bearded bloke in the photo and not the child?

David Brown
7th February, 2012 @ 03:10 pm PST

The child was doing what a child would do, she did not intend for that sort after molecule. It's much more complicated with bond energy and bond angles at play. Article is wrong.

Dawar Saify
7th February, 2012 @ 05:13 pm PST

Because of the network this discovery was made public. Really Cool.

Carlos Grados
7th February, 2012 @ 05:29 pm PST

But there still has to be a process for making the chemical compound AFTER the fact that the elements are able to combine in the ratio you may want to achieve. This guy that my friend's dad knew back in 1976 convinced some investors to put up money to build a plant to process gold from ore, but no one bothered to find out from a real chemist if the process would actually work!!! So the whole place was a complete waste of time, effort and money. Wishful thinking does NOT make truth. My own dad had the idea that maybe gold could be made by using Mercury to alter the composition of Lead. He had no idea at all of the enormous amounts of energy needed to alter elements at that level. It only works like that in the movies and comic strips.

Randy

Expanded Viewpoint
7th February, 2012 @ 05:52 pm PST

Unless we know the reasoning behind this particular choice and arrangement of atoms I would be tempted to agree with those calling it the pony molecule. It may work best as an interesting art piece.

katgod
7th February, 2012 @ 06:54 pm PST

Sorry, it seems everyone has miss understood Carla by pony she means she was trying to combine Potasium, Oxygen, Nitrogen an Yttrium.. but all just went wrong somewhere and got this silly tetranitratoxycarbon thingy... oh pooh..

Doug B
8th February, 2012 @ 02:09 am PST

Ben, it would have made this story more interesting if you had:

1) told us more about the project that led Clara to this molecule design

2) interviewed Clara about how she came up with her idea

3) included a picture of Clara, THE PERSON ABOUT WHOM THE STORY WAS WRITTEN!!!

[In order to get the article posted in a timely manner, we went with the photo and information supplied by Humboldt State University -Ed.]

Alan Mudd
8th February, 2012 @ 09:31 am PST

practically speaking- all you really need is an oxidizer and just about anything s a 'bomb'.

Kwazai
21st June, 2012 @ 06:05 am PDT
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