Molecule of the Month – March 2015

Explosions explosions EXPLOSIONS!! I knew a Chemistry Tutor in the UK… who simply loved explosions. He studied thousands of explosive compounds, and even demonstrated a few in a Lecture on Explosive Reactions in Chemistry (with the proper safety precautions, of course!). One would think that it takes years and years of experience to perform such feats of wonder and danger. But what about those who discovered the explosives in the first place? They must have spent years, risking their lives all the way, to discover, and implement. But not all discoveries were from well-known, experienced, brilliant scientists who put everything on the line for the advancement of science.

During a fifth-grade class in 2012 conducted by a Science teacher Kenneth Boehr, ten-year-old Clara Lazen assembled a complex model using ball-and-stick model set and asked whether it was a real molecule.

Clara Lazen with her molecule in 2012

Unsure of the answer, Boehr sent a picture of the model to a chemist friend, Robert Zoellner, a Professor in Chemistry at Humboldt State University. Zoellner checked the molecule against the ‘Chemical Abstracts‘ database and confirmed that Lazen’s had a unique and previously unrecognized structure.

Professor Robert Zoellner admires a model of the new molecule in 2012

Zoellner wrote a paper on the molecule, published in Computational and Theoretical Chemistry, crediting Lazen and Boehr as co-authors.

Tetranitratoxycarbon consists of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, with molecular structure C(CO3N)4. As an oxygen-rich compound of carbon and nitrogen, similar to nitroglycerin, it is predicted to have explosive properties, but to be too thermally unstable for practical use.

(Notice the Schrödinger equation on the blackboard in the background!)

This is not the first time a young aspiring scientist has been a direct or indirect cause of the discovery of a new molecule, and it will not be the last. Especially to our Lower Sixth intake of 2015/2016, it falls to YOU to be innovative, to be proactive, to be brilliant and be the next Clara.

Rush headlong into Chemistry A-Level with a strong desire to EXCEL! Welcome, Lower Sixth Students, to our wonderful world ^___^

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