KANSAS CITY, MO– One never knows where or when or how a flash of brilliance will happen that changes a person’s life. Maybe changes the world in a huge and profound way. That’s the case for this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever, a little girl with a big breakthrough in the tiniest of worlds.
It was a pretty routine day at Border Star Montessori School in the Kansas City, Missouri School District that Clara Lazen’s stroke of chemistry genius occurred. Teacher Ken Boehr had given Clara some basic instruction in how atoms bond together to form molecules and turned her loose with a molecule model kit.
“Clara can be a very eager student,” says Boehr. “When she latches on to an idea, she wants to go with it.”
Clara started putting parts together — and with some carbons and nitrogens and oxygens, she concocted something that looked pretty good to her.
“I just saw that these go together more,” says Clara showing off the molecule she built. “Like they fit more together. And they look better. And all the holes have to be filled in for it to be stable.”
Clara asked Boehr if her creation was real. Boehr’s not a chemistry expert so he contacted a friend who is, PhD. chemistry professor Robert Zoellner at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA who ran a computer analysis on it — and liked what he saw.
“Molecules can store energy,” says Zoellner. “And that’s kind of what we hope this molecule will be is an energy storage molecule that might either release it’s energy controllably or perhaps it will be a new kind of explosive. It could be that.”
It was a molecule professor Zoeller says apparently had never been thought of before. And before long he cranked out a scientific paper on Clara’s molecule for publication in a major theoretical chemistry journal. And Clara and her teacher are listed as co-authors.
“This has never happened before,” says Zoellner. “I have never partnered with a middle school student, a 10 or 11 year old student. Never happened before. Although I work with undergraduate students and I work with high school students, Clara is by far the youngest student I have ever worked with.”
Actual high-level research needs to be done to determine if Clara’s molecule can be synthesized but Clara’s pretty excited already about it’s potential — perhaps for batteries — and especially for explosives.
“Me and Mr. Boehr were talking about if we sold it we’d split they money,” says Clara with a laugh. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can sell this to the military for money.’”
Clara is, of course, still very young with a lot of interests an activities and a universe of possibilities still open to her, not the least of which is a strong desire to write books one day for “tween” and young adult audiences. But this early breakthrough in chemistry certainly has lit a fire in Clara to keep pursuing science research. And her teacher and her new university research partner say that’s the real significance of Clara’s discovery.
“Absolutely,” says Zoellner. “There are two many examples to recite about how often women seem to be turned off by science at one point in their careers or another. Hopefully in Clara’s case and in her classmates’ cases, as well, this will keep their interest in science going.”
“For women in science, says Boehr, it can be difficult. It’s a male-dominated field. And so something like this could make all the difference for her. And I hope it does.”
The article Professor Zoellner wrote about Clara’s molecule is being published in a scientific journal called Computational and Theoretical Chemistry. And Professor Zoellner says he’s set out to get a major research university to begin working on synthesizing and experimenting with the molecule.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.
Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.