A 10-Year-Old Accidentally Created An Explosive New Molecule

What's your most impressive scientific achievement from the fifth grade? For some people, it might be memorizing the first few elements on the periodic table or being able to identify different types of clouds in the sky. For others, we might vividly remember an elementary school science fair: That baking-soda-powered volcano was really impressive.

But, some people have even more stunning achievements under their belts by the time they graduate elementary school. A case in point is Clara Lazen — a 10-year-old Kansas City fifth grader. During her fifth-grade science class, she didn't just learn about molecules: She discovered a new one (via Cal Poly Humboldt).

While messing around with molecule modeling kits, Lazen found she had created a particularly interesting structure. When she asked her teacher if it was a real molecule, he reached out to a chemistry professor, Robert Zoellner, to get answers, Popular Science reports. That's when they realized that Lazen had discovered a molecule.

Clara Lazen's molecule

The molecule that Clara Lazen uncovered has been dubbed tetranitratoxycarbon, and was the subject of a paper by Robert Zoellner in the journal "Computational and Theoretical Chemistry," according to Cal Poly Humbolt. It's composed of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon atoms, none of which are particularly uncommon atoms. In fact, they are three of the four most common elements that can be found in living beings, according to Bionity. However, tetranitratoxycarbon's structure is unique — and it is distinctly powerful.

According to experts, the particular structure of the molecule suggests that it might be able to be used in explosives (via Cal Poly Humbolt), though Popular Science notes that the compound is synthetic, meaning it doesn't naturally occur in the world. As a result, anyone hoping to make an explosive out of tetranitratoxycarbon will have to find a way to make the molecule first.

Worth noting: Zoellner wasn't the only author of the paper submitted to the professional scientific journal. He also credited Clara Lazen and her teacher, according to Cal Poly Humbolt.

Other synthetic molecules

Though Clara Lazen's story is undoubtedly unique — how many ten-year-old scientific discoverers do you know? — there are plenty of different synthetic molecules that have been created by science. For example, researchers at Yale University have been able to create synthetic molecules called synthetic antibody mimics, which can help direct and enhance immune responses (via Yale University).

Likewise, there are also synthetic polymers. Polymers are similar to molecules, in that they are long strings of atoms placed together (via Science News for Students). Synthetic polymers can be found in many different substances and aspects of our lives than we might imagine. For instance, nylon is a synthetic polymer, according to Carnegie Mellon University. Nylon was created in the 1930s and is used for a variety of different things, including parachute fabrics, according to Britannica, or in 3D printers that require a very high melting temperature, according to Creative Mechanisms. Other synthetic polymers include polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVP), and low-density polyethene, according to BYJU's.