Science Profile: Make Your Own Molecule
Clara Lazen has an honor that few 10-year-olds share: she is a co-author on a scientific paper, and the discoverer of a molecule new to science. And it all started because of a 5-grade class assignment at Border Star Montessori School in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kenneth Boehr, Lazen’s teacher, had given the class a project: with modeling kits, try to build some molecules. Usually, given this assignment, the kids come up with familiar molecular structures, or physically impossible ones. But the structure Lazen built was new to Boehr. He forwarded a picture of the molecule model to Robert Zollner, a chemistry professor at Humboldt State University. Zoellner didn’t recognize it either, and couldn’t immediately identify if it was a real molecule or not. So, he did some research. Only one paper described a molecule with the same chemical formula as Lazen’s, and the structure was different. Yet, the structure seemed physically valid, and, beyond that, appeared to have the ability to store energy. Potentially a lot of it. The molecule, called tetranitratoxycarbon, contains the same combination of atoms as nitroglycerin, a component of dynamite. It still remains to be seen what the energy potential of Lazen’s molecule is, as it has yet to be synthesized in a lab, but it could be a very important discovery.
Apart from the significance to the scientific community, though, this discovery has had a big impact on Lazen herself. She is interested in studying biology and medicine, and getting published in a scientific journal and being recognized for her discovery at such a young age will only strengthen that determination. We can only hope that this paper, while being her first, will be far from her last. And I hope that Boehr will continue teaching and encouraging his students, especially girls, to explore and get excited about science.