10-Year-Old Discovers New Molecule

So here's the story:

10-Year-Old Accidentally Creates New Molecule in Science Class 
Clara Lazen is the discoverer of tetranitratoxycarbon, a molecule constructed of, obviously, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. It's got some interesting possible properties, ranging from use as an explosive to energy storage. Lazen is listed as the co-author of a recent paper on the molecule. But that's not what's so interesting and inspiring about this story. What's so unusual here is that Clara Lazen is a ten-year-old fifth-grader in Kansas City, MO.

Okay, that's a little bit of an oversell. She didn't "create" the molecule -- she modeled it. It would have to be synthesized in a lab. But it could.

There is some discussion in the comments to this story about whether there is really much of an accomplishment here. Clara Lazen didn't invent anything, and in fact this chemical was already known to exist -- just not configured quite this way. It's a new molecular form for a known substance.

The argument goes that all the kid did was connect some balls and sticks and now she's being given credit for making a major contribution to science. That argument misses out on two important facts:

  1. She connected the balls and sticks correctly, according to some fixed rules surrounding what can connect to what.
  2. What she came up with is real.
Let's put it more simply: every chemist in the world has access to those same balls and sticks, or other techniques for modeling new molecules. But none of them ever came up with tetranitratoxycarbon. 

Clara did.

If a scientist was just playing around and stumbled upon this molecule, he would be given full credit. Why in the world would we not extend the same credit to a child who who had the vision and creativity to lead us to something new? 

Brava, Clara Lazen.


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