Clara Lazen is not your typical fifth-grader. The Kansas City, Missouri student was tackling an assignment in science class manipulating molecular models when she made an accidental scientific breakthrough. Armed with some basic instruction on the formation and structure of molecules, Clara ended up combining a mixture of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon atoms to create a molecule her chemistry teacher, Kenneth Boehr, had never seen before.
After the exercise, Clara wanted to know if the molecule she’d modeled existed in real life. Boehr got in touch with a friend, Robert Zoellner, who also happens to be a computational chemist, to see if he could offer any insight. Zoellner couldn’t tell at a glance whether the molecule was real, so he did a little research and found that Clara’s molecular formula is a new structural arrangement for the chemical nitroglycerin.
Zoellner has named the new molecule tetranitratoxycarbon, and is publishing a paper detailing his research – with Clara and Mr. Boehr both listed as co-authors. There are still many questions left to be answered: no one knows exactly what the molecule’s properties might be if synthesized in a lab. Zoellner theorizes that, due to its similarity to nitroglycerin, it might have the potential to store energy, or it might be combustible. It’s not even clear, at present, whether it would be possible to create the molecule at all.
While more research is currently being done to find out more about Clara’s molecule, the future looks bright for this 10-year-old scientist. As Boehr stated in an interview with Kansas City’s local Fox affiliate, scientific fields are still highly male-dominated, and findings like Clara’s can make all the difference for girls and young women hoping to break into the field.
You can see Clara’s molecule and listen to her talk about her creative process in assembling it in this local news clip.
Photo credit: p_a_h