Ten-Year-Old Fifth Grader, Discovers New Molecule

By Huffington Post

Now that Clara Lazen of Kansas City, Mo. has been published in a major chemistry journal, she can set her sights on a new goal: graduating elementary school. How did she do it? The 10-year-old was experimenting with a molecule-building toy during a class assignment when she stumbled upon an unusual-looking molecule. Her intrigued teacher, Kenneth Boehr, photographed it and sent it to his college buddy Robert Zoellner, a chemistry professor at Humboldt State University in California. Zoellner found that the simple but specific chemical had never been seen before. He published a paper, and Clara and Boehr were listed as co-authors. Reports vary on how the discovery actually went down next. The university’s statement said she “randomly arranged” the toy atoms. But in the video above Clara seems to say that her design was deliberate, that the pieces “fit more together and … look better – all the holes have to be filled in for it to be stable.” Either way, Clara’s in rare company with a major publication at age 10, and if a lab can manage to synthesize Clara’s chemical, it might even prove useful. Two forms of the molecule “may be of interest as high-energy materials,” wrote Zoellner in the paper, which was published in the January edition of Computational and Theoretical Chemistry. The university’s statement notes:

If a synthetic chemist succeeded at creating the molecule – dubbed tetranitratoxycarbon for short – it could store energy, create a large explosion, or do something in between, Zoellner says: “Who knows?”

The unusual situation isn’t lost on Zoellner, who now lists the paper at the top of his sample publications and deadpanned to a local Fox affiliate that “I have never partnered with a middle school student … before.” But Clara doesn’t seem fazed by all the press, noting dreamily that “I could sell this to the military for money.”

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