I hate the way chemistry has been infantilized to the point where you can’t even buy a decent home chemistry kit for kids anymore, but this story takes it a step further. A teenager in Florida did a simple experiment that made a small plastic bottle go boom and spew out some smoke (and no one was hurt, although apparently the student was surprised), and the school over-reacted: they expelled her.
It was a simple reaction: aluminum + sodium hydroxide releases hydrogen gas and the pressure ruptures the bottle. It was also a poor decision to do it unsupervised in a school yard, but good grief…kicking her out of school means that interest is now quelled. Channel that perfectly reasonable curiosity into constructive academic pursuits! This school seems to be more concerned with shutting down exploration and keeping everyone unchallenged and safe than in engaging in that dangerous business of education.
Josh, Official SpokesGay says
PZ, I’m afraid it’s FAR worse than that. She was arrested and charged with a FELONY:
I’m skeptical about the “she will be tried as an adult,” statement, however. The paper can’t know that because I’m sure the DA hasn’t decided on final action yet.
That is so awful! I love doing experiments with my four year old, and am sure we will be blowing things up in no time (please don’t arrest me for saying that). But really, the whole thing could have been made into a teaching moment for all of the kids involved, something that might have sparked their curiosity. Instead, well, they did this.
I read the article, was thinking ‘doh, that was dumb but nothing too terrible’ then reached the part where it mentioned she was black. The rage-facepalm-sadness clicked in and it made ‘sense’. Not the good kind of sense either, just the same stupid pattern being repeated over and over.
Case in point: “The Sun is very, very, very, very hot.” Neils Degrasse Tyson.
Stephen Roberts says
When I was in High School, I worked in the school science lab and one day we mixed up gunpowder and tried to make it go boom. We failed and spent a couple days of suspension for it, but all in all it was semi-harmless fun (I seriously doubt we even had the mix even close to right)…
I suspect poor kids these days would be facing expulsion at a minimum with much more likely long interrogation sessions with the FBI and possible criminal charges and serious jail time…
Too many people spend too much time being scared and not enough time just living.
FSM, this is ridiculous! When I was in college, a student accidentally made trinitrotoluene (it was supposed to be nitrotoluene, but someone cooked it wrong or something). Anyway, no one made a fuss about that, even though it burst a beaker and scared the crap out of half the class. (Fortunately, hoods meant no further harm done.) When did we get this ridiculous about “safety”?
Glen Davidson says
Shouldn’t criminals be doing science instead of what they’ve been doing? I mean, where’s the problem?
So now I suppose someone will claim that I’m missing the point.
Between that, and the expectation that we never use words like “uterus” or “sperm” in Biology, things are getting seriously bad. We had a Biology instructor at our college who refused to say the word “dung” or “feces” for fear of insulting the students; she always referred to “poo”. Our students are supposed to be adults. Apparently our instructors aren’t.
cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says
Bombs are OK if they’re coursework or under the supervision of an instructor?
Becca Stareyes says
Hell, I’d think a minor punishment for ‘unknown chemistry experiments should be done in a lab or other appropriate area, not the school yard’* would be in order, but expelling the girl and charging her with a frickin felony is so far over the line you need the Keck telescopes to resolve the line.
* Lab safety is an important lesson for a budding scientist. Especially when working with things that may explode.
She made a Drano bomb on campus PZ. Science fair experiment my arse. She was messing around and got caught. Making things go boom on a school campus weeks after the marathon bombings isn’t exactly the move of a genius in waiting. I’d rather someone with that kind of limited ability to think ahead not go in to chemistry as a career thank you.
They should immediately readmit her to the school and the charges should be dropped and her record expunged. There’s no reason for that level of punishment. An essay about the power of chemical reactions? Sure, make her do that during detention, or some other benign punishment befitting the crime.
I agree that they over reacted, but “Criminalizing Science”? That’s just absurd.
cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says
Thats the trouble with kids and science today. They have taken all the fun out of it. Almost all the demonstration experiments in my old teaching manuals are now banned. If I performed them in class I would face the same charges as this student.
Her mistake was bringing drain cleaner and aluminum foil to school. She should have brought an assault rifle. That is protected by the constitution and the NRA.
“kicking her out of school means that interest is now quelled.”
You… don’t remember being a kid that well, do you?
(All right; neither do I. But I remember it well enough to know that someone getting expelled for something never once _quelled_ interest in it…)
cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says
OMG, every time I post that link I forget how awesome the actual article is.
John Morales says
The most plausible (by far) interpretation I’ve seen about this, here and elsewhere.
I’m a science teacher and I agree with PZed. That girl may not ever wish to show any interest in. Science again. What a stupid school system and legal system to charge that girl. Right now, I would like to have her in my general science course. An interest in science is a precious thing.
. Ericthebassist has it right. Very poor judgement on her part. Drano is not a safe chemical to mess about with. How about making her take a hazardous chemical handling course?
Josh, Official SpokesGay says
Jesus Christ. Kids do stupid things. Their brains aren’t fully developed; they don’t have years of experience. Acting as if something like this is a harbinger of doom, a sign of a dumb or dangerous girl, is STUPID.
I’d like to have a list of all the dumbass dangerous shit I’m sure you did at that age, erikthebassist. I can assure you I wouldn’t have a professional career or college education if I were judged for the rest of my life based on the assholery I engaged in as a teen.
When I was 16, my friends and I had fun making dry ice “bombs.” The state of Texas found out after my friends put one in a convenient store trashcan, unfortunately for them they were 17 and got put in county lock up. I had to go before a judge and have him read me my rights. They were planning on charging us with possession of explosives since apparently the bottle cap could be flung a certain distance but after a few weeks they let my friends out and never took us to court. The whole experience was weird.
If this constitutes a felony, an expulsion worthy offence and something that precludes this woman from a future career in chemistry, I, a professional, PhD qualified chemist with an exemplary professional safety record would like several previous actions of mine to be taken into account. This is very small beer for an amateur chemistry experiment gone wrong (right?).
I am surprised at the hypersensitivity shown in this case given that in a year or two this woman will be able to bear firearms and shoot things. Priorities seem all fucked up to me. Slap on the wrist and extra chem homework by my standards.
The first dry ice bomb the neighbor boys blew off made me laugh. I figured the concussion had those boys shitting their pants.
But no, they did it again 20 minutes later. The dressing down they got from me cured them of a third attempt.
Which part of “dressing down” do the adults surrounding this child not get? Cast her *into the pit* for a crappy Drano “bomb”? Perhaps they have never heard a dry ice bomb go off. It goes BOOM, not boom.
John Morales says
Um, I think it may be a trifle more important to get her off the spurious and ridiculous weapons charge first.
There’s something wrong with a system that allows for such travesties, hopefully it’s not so wrong that it can’t correct them.
I don’t know a single chemist–and few physicists–who didn’t play around making explosives, pipebombs, etc. while young. It was one of the few consolations of being a geek. This country is now afraid of its own shadow. You can stick a fork in American science for the next generation.
Well, I can attest these things can be dangerous. I’ve never done a Drano bomb, but I have tried it with dry ice. Kamaka didn’t quite express how much of a BOOM these things make. It shattered my 3/16″ thick plastic laundry sink. Quite a story behind that, and if my wife wasn’t used to crap like that she’d be pretty angry. If that’s in somebody’s hand or face, it’ll do serious damage. I imagine flying Drano makes it worse.
So what was her intent? Was it horsing around to scare people? Was she aware how dangerous these can be? Expulsion might be excessive, but maybe not, depending on the circumstances.
Or was she experimenting? Then some safety training may be in order. As I always tell my kids (as they watch me do really stupid things) “If you’re gonna do something stupid, be smart about it (and call me so that I can play too)”
Actually what she did was kind of dangerous and people have been hurt in the past by it. I know the media made it out to be a “kid doing science” but it was more along the lines of “kid pulling dangerous prank”. I still have a scar on my leg from when I was a kid and I did this at home in my bathroom. I don’t see the difference between making a homemade explosive device even a small one, and setting off M80s, which are arguably safer, at a school where someone could have been hurt.
Negligent behavior is negligent behavior, even if you get away without hurting someone.
Makes me glad to be an old fart. Bangs and smells and stuff frothing and foaming over the rim of beakers were the best things about chemistry when I was in school. Pushing and chasing balls of mercury across a lab bench with our bare fingers was fun. Safety? Pfffft.
I was too much of a goody two shoes to try any extra-curricular nonsense myself, but lots of kids did – and they used much worse stuff than Drano.
Well surely that was her teacher’s fault. Has America seriously gotten to the point where you’re prosecuting students for having poor teachers?
I gotta admit, I find it particularly funny that a country that prizes itself on masculinity as much as America
still acts like the biggest wimps the word has ever seen.
A teenage girl makes a puff of smoke and you run for the hills, crying “Terrorist!” What a fucking joke.
kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says
In other news, five year old boy shoots his two years old sister dead with a gun made specially for small children, and it’s just an unfortunate accident.
It even comes in pink, how cute !
Dog forbid that kids play stupid tricks with firecrackers and homemade pipe bombs. It’s much better to have them play with guns.
Even as a chem prof, I resorted to pyrotechnics to keep the class awake sometimes. Nitrogen tri-iodide was a favorite–unstable as hell but harmless…mostly. However, note to self–thermite should only be ignited outdoors. That shut down a chem classroom for an afternoon.
#22, John, I agree the first thing is to get her off the stupid criminal charges. The DA that laid them should be fired. Or are they elected in that state?
OMgosh, my cousin and I made gunpowder in his basement! Everything would have been fine if we didn’t test the fuses in the same area the gunpowder was stored in. All we wanted to do was blow up his sister’s Barbie doll. My aunt still won’t let us forgot.
Doc Bill says
Good old nitrogen tri-iodide! Our professor told us how to make it and we did. Put it in his door lock and were very surprised when he wasn’t amused!
Potassium permanganate, con sulfuric acid and a paper towel was also exciting. Oh, and a large chunk of sodium metal dropped off the bridge into the Wabash. That generated UFO reports in the paper, not that I know anything about it. STRICTLY second hand. Srsly.
They should replace chemistry lessons with firearms practice. Much safer!
Standard reaction. Over-react and impose the harshest possible punishment, probably blasting that child’s future in the process, but “teaching” all the other kids to be good little droogies. And it will cost her and her parents an as of yet unknown total of money keeping her from prison. Oh, it’s not the weapon discharge/destructive device charge that’s the problem, although those are bad enough — it’s the “on school property or within n distance of school ” charge that will fry her.
(n.b.: in the interests of full disclosure , yours truly once lit off the resultant gas from a mix of 100ml HCL and aprox 30g of zinc. The poof lit up the science lab and got the student … not a punishment, but sent to self-study chemistry instead of wait and do nothing while the other kids slogged through their experiments.)
Yeah. When I was in 8th grade, my science teacher offered extra credit to anyone who could take the silver halide emulsion off of photo film. Of course, he didn’t give us a clue as to how to do that, and this being the days before the internet, we all were just taking stabs in the dark.
Yes, idiot me and my brother managed to release a cloud of chlorine gas in our bathroom. We were lucky we didn’t inhale the stuff or burn our eyes.
Ah. Fun times.
And the emulsion was just fine.
Their “contact us” web form is currently rejecting any new submissions. But a tiny bit of exploration of the web site turned up email addresses for the principals of the school so I sent the following email.
Subject: expulsion of Kiera Wilmot
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Your job is to not only educate students but make them exited about
learning and exploring the world we live in. By expelling Ms. Wilmot you’ve
done the exact opposite. Shame on you. I suggest you find employment doing
something better suited to your inclinations. Prison guard comes to mind
(especially since you felt having her arrested was an appropriate response).
P.S., Should I subsequently learn that she plans to attend college and
needs financial assistance I intend to help fund her education.
This, and incidents like it, always make me think of a wise thing that my favorite boss said to me once: “Anyone can enforce rules blindly. A kid can do that. The job of a manager is to know when to make an exception.” Substitute “authority figure” for “manager” and you’ve got the crux of the problem. You’ve got supposedly responsible adults – principals, resource officers, district attorneys, and so on – who defend obvious miscarriages of justice by saying, “my hands are tied.”
Sadly, I think otocump (#3) has this right on. I had numerous friends in high school who did dumb stuff in chemistry class, on campus, at home, etc., and every authority figure involved in those incidents rightly recognized them as the sorts of innocent things kids do, rather than, say, the warning signs of a plot to bomb the school, and acted appropriately – a stern lecture and a wagged finger and that’s it. That poor kid. I hope the court of public opinion eviscerates the DA in this case.
I’m pretty sure I’d have been expelled, at least temporarily, for doing that when I was in High School. In 1965. In Montana.
A little later, there was a guy in my dorm in college who a couple of years earlier had been doing experiments with dynamite with a friend. He was standing behind the friend when it went off. Still had pieces of the friend embedded in him.
Though I’m somewhat skeptical of the science project motivation rather than the “I’d like to blow something up” motivation, obviously expulsion and criminal charges are way over the top. I think several hours of detention, in which she writes a formal lab report about her “science project”, including a section about the safety procedures she didn’t follow, would be adequate. I agree with the school administration that actions have consequences, but those consequences don’t have to be Draconian and stupid.
I used to a demo outside for students, potassium permanganate and glycerol. The reaction took a few seconds to work, but the people flames and smoke was worth the wait.
Stupid OHS rules.
Erick @ 24
You did it in the house? Hahaha!!
Dumshit. Thank you for the giggles. =8>)
Glen Davidson says
Honestly, I’m against anything that produces people flames.
John Morales says
OpenMindedNotCredulous, it makes me uncomfortable to see that e-mail address, given that (as you note) anyone motivated enough can determine it for themselves much as you did.
(This is PZ’s soapbox)
Like most of the others here I and my friends (nerds all) did stuff like this 70 years ago. I hope the statute of limitations has run out.
What is truly scary is that the people who made this decision are in a position to continue to poison kids’ minds. Mindless authoritarianism is the worst dangerous threat we face.
Excuse me? I simply posted the email I sent to two addresses published on the school’s web site but which were not immediately obvious to someone not familiar with HTML and web site publishing norms. The addresses are on the “contact us” web form page: http://www.bartowhighschool.com/Contact%20Us.html which is currently rejecting new messages. It’s probably not obvious to most people they can simply cut-n-paste those addresses into their email client to bypass the web form. I definitely did not do anything questionable by making those addresses obvious. Your concern is noted and circular filed.
Many of you seem to have made up your minds without having much evidence, some of you are implying things that are completely false even. This wasn’t a science experiment. It was a stupid and dangerous prank, if she had done it in her backyard it would be one thing but bringing things that go BOOM! to school is frowned upon, and yeah no surprise its actually against the law. Twenty five years ago bringing firecrackers to school would get the cops involved its not new and its not “mindless authoritarianism”.
Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says
Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that people who do fucking horrible things like persecute students for poorly thought out chemistry experiments should never have to face any consequences or negative feedback.
Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says
These things are not mutually exclusive.
No one said it was a good idea, but filing charges is completely fucking inappropriate. If it weren’t for whimpering little sheep like yourselves defending them, laws so badly written as to be applicable to this kind of situation – especially felony laws – would shrivel up and die.
thinkbleat mindless authoritarianism is a new development?
Ok so a student does exactly what she did but instead some kid walking by gets some drano in the eye, which will blind you permanently. But because she got lucky and no one got hurt its ok?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “okay”, but expelling and a felony charge is a huge and unnecessary overreaction.
She made a bomb and brought it to school. These things can and have caused serious injury to people, She then detonated it at the school. The felony charge is probably too much but the school has nothing to do with it, they are required by law to call the cops in situations like this.
I don’t see that the reporting supports the assertion that the bomb was pre-assembled and then brought to school. Nor do I see support for the assertion that it was intended to cause injury, or that it was expected to cause injury. Youtube videos of the blast aren’t necessarily all that impressive, for example – if the intention was to replicate something seen online, there may not have been any understanding of the potential.
Irresponsible? Certainly. I don’t see any reason to go further than that yet.
John Morales says
Such, alas, is the fate of many expressions of concern.
(Perhaps yours to Ronald will fare better, eh? ;) )
Which is an indication that there might just be a problem with the way the law is written.
She showed poor judgement and did something that was potentially dangerous. However, there’s no indication that she was acting maliciously, so treating this as a criminal matter, rather than a disciplinary one, is far too harsh.
It could have been worse. Luckily she doesn’t have a Muslim name.
Oops, my previous post was in reply to Notsont.
The update has links she brought the stuff from home. Making these things is punishable by up to 5 years in jail the law does not seem to make an exception for “it was only a small bomb”. Intent isn’t magic, I hear that a lot around here, when people drive drunk they have no intention of hurting people, they idiot playing Quickdraw McGraw in the mirror with his gun isn’t intending to shoot the lady across the street. The kid who tossed me a lit firecracker didn’t “intend” for me to catch it and blow a finger off, still wasn’t funny.
Yeah, she’d probably already be in Gitmo if that were the case.
Purple flames! Not people flames. I hate autocorrect!
You think a dry ice bomb goes BOOM? Try a carbide bomb. Since it is time for true confessions. As a typically healthy and curious teenager I made nitroglycerine in my back yard, various types of solid rocket fuel in the garage, chlorine and hydrogen in the science lab and even demonstrated the inverse square law with a chunk of uranium ore and a geiger counter. As for fire crackers, I launched several tin cans over the fence and blew several large craters in the lawn. One particularly sadistic teacher had his letter box blown up every year although I plead not guilty to that particular act of retribution.
“Intent isn’t magic, I hear that a lot around here, when people drive drunk they have no intention of hurting people, they idiot playing Quickdraw McGraw in the mirror with his gun isn’t intending to shoot the lady across the street. The kid who tossed me a lit firecracker didn’t “intend” for me to catch it and blow a finger off, still wasn’t funny.”
That’s because some statutes explicitly exclude intent as being part of the crime, while other statutes allow for it. Driving drunk and criminal negligence are usually an excluded-intent statutes.
However, I cannot say for certain whether the felony she’s charged with similarly excludes intent. I only reply to clear up a misunderstanding about the law. Intent does often matter.
But again, I don’t see any reporting that any of it was done with malice, and there was no actual harm. There isn’t even any indication that any student was in danger – for all we know from the reports, she may have intentionally performed the experiment well away from any other students.
The fact that the only offense she could be charged with is a felony is a serious problem. It gives the authorities no leeway to charge or sentence according to the context of the situation. I see no reason that even the threat of five years in jail is even slightly warranted here.
turn it off.
10th grade Accelerated Chemistry: Mr. Greenway’s got a migraine, so we have a sub for lab. Mike Fox takes two jars off the shelf, shrugs, sez “these oughta react!”
A little of each in a beaker and a splash of H2O and FOOM! a bright purple cloud! of what I later figured out was straight Iodine gas!
This case is fucking bull. shit.
Give that young woman a fucking scholarship.
There were dozens of kids around, was the risk high, no it wasn’t, but it was still a risk and if the next time it happens someone gets hurt even though there was no intent, is it still only worthy of a 2 day suspension?
Felony charges are probably too much and they will probably be dropped to a misdemeanor unless the DA is a real prick, but there seems to be a fad of people making and leaving these things places for the sole purpose of getting people to pick them up and set them off. Placing them in mailboxes seems to be a favorite. One poor old lady had to have surgery to put her face back together.
“There were dozens of kids around, was the risk high, no it wasn’t, but it was still a risk and if the next time it happens someone gets hurt even though there was no intent, is it still only worthy of a 2 day suspension?”
If someone was hurt, there are automatically criminal and civil liabilities whatever the school chooses.
I still wouldn’t support an expulsion without evidence of intent.
Was not a science experiment she brought the stuff from home, and set it off just as classes were starting at 7am behind the cafeteria with a bunch of other kids around. This is not some curious kid working in the lab only guessing at what might happen, she got it off youtube and knew it would explode.
PZ Myers says
Of course intent isn’t magic — she made a mistake, she did wrong. But it was a small mistake, and no harm was done. The punishment should fit the crime, and expulsion is way overboard. Charging her with a felony is obscene.
And yeah, all through junior high, we were making potassium triiodide snappers — a few crystals in a twist of toilet paper placed where someone might step on them. Guess I should have been in a federal penitentiary.
Expulsion is mandatory by the schools rules, bring an explosive device to school unless its in an approved and supervised experiment and you get kicked out same thing if she brought a gun, even a small one.
PZ did you ever build an acid bomb with the potential to maim or blind people? no? Then its not similar.
“Expulsion is mandatory by the schools rules, bring an explosive device to school unless its in an approved and supervised experiment and you get kicked out same thing if she brought a gun, even a small one.”
Then I don’t support the school’s policy in its inability to differentiate between different devices and intent, in the same manner that I don’t support zero tolerance policies that expel or suspend students for bringing brightly colored plastic toy guns to school.
My high school chem teacher told us how to make nitroglycerin. I was the only one to ask for the safety instructions (remembering my aunt’s reaction to black powder in her basement). All he said was “stir carefully”. AFAIK, no one attempted to make any. He scared us. That class was almost as much fun as physics with the high voltages.
Science is fun. Science can be dangerous. I know a biology teacher that dropped a new scalpel and stuck out his leg to prevent the blade from hitting the floor. Several stitches later, class resumed.
I’m a chemistry professor, and I think the student absolutely should be punished for this. It’s a dangerous experiment and she was doing it unsupervised. Drano is highly caustic. When the bottle explodes from the pressure of hydrogen gas buildup, the Drano has to go somewhere. Was she wearing a lab coat, gloves, and goggles? Was everyone in the vicinity wearing PPE? What if the Drano splashed on her skin and she got a burn? What if it splashed in her eyes? What if it splashed on a passerby? The school would be sued for not properly supervising a student.
Was expulsion the right punishment? I don’t know. At the very least a suspension was in order. But if the school has a zero-tolerance policy for bring dangerous materials on campus, then it would only be fair for the school to honor it. A big reason that schools have been shifting to zero-tolerance policies is to avoid charges of bias or favoritism. And if they didn’t expel this student, then the next student who did get expelled for something similar could sue the school for treating them unfairly.
I teach at a college, and the punishment for cheating in a class is automatically failing the entire course. Not failing the assignment they cheated on, failing the entire course It could be a student stealing a copy of the answer key the day before the test. Or it could just be a student peaking over another student’s shoulder at 1 test question. But if the student is found guilty by the disciplinary committee, the punishment is the same. The justification is specifically to make sure that every faculty member is treating students equally and that there aren’t any biases based on the student or faculty member’s gender, race, etc.
“Was not a science experiment she brought the stuff from home, and set it off just as classes were starting at 7am behind the cafeteria with a bunch of other kids around. This is not some curious kid working in the lab only guessing at what might happen, she got it off youtube and knew it would explode.”
There are a lot of assertions here I don’t see in the original reporting.
1) Is the gazebo where the device exploded behind the cafeteria? I’m not familiar with the school grounds.
2) Is there evidence that she got the inspiration from youtube?
2a) If there is evidence, is there evidence she say one of the the more impressive explosions and not one of the amateur concoctions and videos? After all, there are more than a few videos, and some do not show adequate safety precautions or describe them, which might give the impression the explosion isn’t dangerous.
Well we agree on the toy gun issue, and I will admit to being biased about the bomb. I find it less than funny in part because I know someone who was injured by one of these devices left on her front porch as a joke. I don’t find jokes or experiments that put other people in danger to be funny. you want to experiment fine put yourself and no one else in danger, you want to play a joke think of the possible consequences first.
If you follow the links from gawker you can get more info.
Some people in my drm made nitrogen triiodide. Great fun when inserted into dorm room locks.
The first article I read said that the school admin supported her, but it was the district that decided on the expulsion. At least not everyone has completely lost their minds.
A common way of fishing in the south in the late 40’s. Couldnt afford dynamite at 13.
When I was a kid we used to collect the hydrogen gas from the alfoil and caustic in balloons. Get about 20 or so and tie them all together. Attach a long piece of toilet paper as a fuse. Light fuse and let go. Balloons would lift into the sky and when fuse ran out a lovely explosion would occur. Not as noisy as a draino bomb or dry ice bomb but the ball of fire was beautiful.
I also remember setting off dry ice bombs at school after the school play. Pretty much every one had left so it was pretty safe. We also had to hide in the bushes when the police turned up. Such fun!
I agree with you mostly, except you shouldnt be putting yourself in danger either as someone may have to scrape you up and this would not be fair to them.
. I was generally pretty safe with my experiments as a child. Most of them were inspired by my father who expressed the dangers. He had a friend die as a child when a home made pipe cannon exploded. Another friend was severely burnt by molten caustic soda when they were attempting to make sodium.
Glen Davidson says
Dupont lure with a six-inch leader.
The claim I heard in Minnesota is that one record fish was disallowed when such effective fishing equipment was found to have been used.
When I was a little boy, you could go to the drugstore, buy saltpeter and flowers of sulphur, and go home and mortar and pestle those with charcoal in third parts and make a great black powder. Then you could take a sciulpted mud volcano to school, load it with the mix, and light off a terrific eruption on the playground during recess. The kids and teachers all loved it.
You can’t do anything like that now, up to and including dangerous matches and plastic utensils. Actually, almost everything is illegal or under the dominion of no tolerance policies. Welcome to liberal hysterics.
John Morales says
You quite sure it’s liberals who put these laws into place?
You may be surprised at what kids can do and actually do today. This would probably require spending less time going on about the good old days so probably best not to bother.
You can follow up on that and find out, with a sugary sweet email to the school officials telling then how much you appreciate their concern for the safety of the children, You might get a response while they wipe exxasperated sweat off their brow after a rough day of caring so much.
If you haven’t noticed, liberal school administrators deal with issues the same way national progressives do. Avoid targetting the problem segment (because that would be discrimitating) and proposing laws that incriminate everyone. It makes for easy tyranny.
When I was a kid the age for buying fireworks was only 13 or something, but all of the good ones were illegal where I grew up. So we’d buy the unfun ones, take them apart, and make our own. Maybe dangerous and stupid, but it sure was fun.
Drano’s, what, a 10% NaOH solution? That’s within the realm of kinda dangerous, and a small explosion is going to send some of that places. I definitely think that what she did was foolish and she should be punished, but zero tolerance policies are ridiculous and charging her with a felony is insane.
Hilariously, though, I remember doing a very similar experiment in my 7th grade science class using a mason jar, aluminum foil, drano and dish soap – the soap bubbles fill with hydrogen and then you can light them on fire.
Yet another standard texpip performance. Claims without evidence. Pitifully transparent word games.
Intellectual dishonesty all the way down.
In college, in the ’60’s, a chem professor gave a lecture, open to all, at the end of each year, in which the objective was to make as many bangs as were possible to do safely in a chem lecture hall. The nitrogen tri-iodide was provided by the seniors, kindly spread on the floor near the demonstration bench. The prof was expecting it, and wore heavy shoes. As it went pop under his feet, he explained the chemistry behind it, critiqued the student’s preparation, and showed why the pops were so subdued compared to what he could get from the stuff he prepared himself, using a better stoichiometry. Educational, fun, and a wildly popular lecture. He went on to the bigger bangs, and kept some of the ingredients secret.
But note that even the students’ contributions were done with the knowledge of the professor, who trusted that they at least knew some safety precautions. In this case, the high school student should see some consequences for a very dangerous stunt, and get some training. But what she and other students are likely to learn from her expulsion and felony charges is, if you want to do something interesting, do it in secret, or stifle your interests. As usual, zero tolerance just means zero thought, zero judgement, zero intelligence, and zero expectations for improvement. Plus increased chance for self-injury in those secret experiments.
I think research is more impoortant than citations. The stories are out there. PZ just noticed this one, I assume because it was an innocent science student was involved. That is good enough.
I think the administrators are cushioning themselves with blanket rules instead of sorting things out, For my considerably invested part of it, I’d like to think, that we all think, that school admins can sort things out. That is what we pay them to do. Malicious and deliberate is not the same thing as innocent. It is not that hard to discern the diffeernce.
myeck waters says
So, you got nothing, huh?
Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says
What a fine illustration of the fact that you understand absolutely fuck-all about research, of which citations are an absolutely and unequivocally essential part.
So point us to some of them.
Is there a way we can donate to get her into a school that actually values giving her an education?
The “problem” segment?
Would that segment be conveniently color-coded, by any chance?
Are you so frustrated that your science-denialism shit-stirring is being ignored that you have to move to race-baiting so as to get your troll on?
I think you don’t have a clue what either of those words mean.
I see an awful lot of this argument in this thread: “I did a lot of stupid shit when I was a kid, and I turned out fine, therefor, we should encourage kids to do stupid shit”
Fail Fail Fail
This kid something stupid and it’s up to the adults around her to tell her that what she did was fucking stupid.
Yes Josh, I did stupid shit as a kid, and thank FSM there were adults around to tell me how fucking stupid it was. I also thank FSM there wasn’t some crazy over reaction to most of it that got me arrested and / or expelled.
This is an over reaction, plain and simple, but I don’t think we want to be in the business of encouraging kids to make bombs and bring them to school.
Who do you think is doing that?
That’s not what I see. I see people saying, “I did a lot of stupid shit when I was a kid, and I turned out fine, therefore doing stupid shit doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause or that you can’t ever learn to be more sensible.”
What I see people here saying is that kids will occasionally do stupid things and we shouldn’t overreact when they do. Instead, we should talk some sense into them and teach them the right way to behave.
That’s substantially different from encouraging them to bring bombs to school.
Well I once filled a glass bottle with Hydrogen and Oxygen I generated by electrolysis at home, then put a match to it in the school playground while still holding the glass bottle.………… I see the face palms, what happened eh! A blue sheet of flame shot out the bottle followed by the loudest bang I had ever heard, the glass bottle did not explode, so I was very very lucky and to top it all I did not get caught by the powers that be.
I knew what I was doing in that I knew it would go bang but not super duper nuclear level bang. Needless to say I learned my lesson and did not try that one again.
If I had gotten caught then a stiff talking too would have double confirmed the poor judgment, going to jail would have probably wrecked my life.
I not convince that setting of a potentially dangerous experiment out side on a school ground away from buildings and other stuff that could be damaged was a bad thing. If you do not have access to a bomb range like Myth Busters it would be much better than inside a class room that just might catch on fire or other wise be damaged.
yet all we know is the reported version of the events we do not know the whole story.
I bet MacGyver reruns are rare in America. He loved making loud noises from common chemicals. Although Hollywood is still allowed to make things go boom.
I’ve personally made an experiment in alcohol fermentation go boom/splat in my kitchen … at 2 in the morning. Scared the shit out of me!
Ah, insertverbhere-while-black indeed is an offense worthy of a felony charge in Florida. Her parents should’ve taught her that.
Hah! When I was a kid we blew things up on computers, perfectly safe! Ok, that and thankfully inefficient crossbows, pit traps and falling rocks.
I agree that felony charges are insane in this case and expulsion an overreaction. She should be on some kind of “probation” conditions at her school as well as doing some assignment (an essay on explosives and public safety or whatever).
I don’t quite get why everyone, including PZ’s OP, is framing this as a ‘chemistry experiment’. Drano bombs are a Thing (http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/bottlebomb.asp, or search youchoob), and it’s far more likely than anyone setting one up knows exactly what it’s going to do, than that they’re just randomly combining two things to see what happens.
By all means, the official response is an overreaction, but FFS don’t go down the road of ‘They are persecuting this poor kid for INNOCENT SCIENCE!!1!’. Kid was deliberately making a pressure-based acid bomb, ‘kay?
I will never forget the time me and a few friends managed to get hold of the recipe for gunpowder. I stole some potassium nitrate from the chemistry cupboard at school, my friend stole some sulphur, then we bought some charcoal. A bit of trial and error later, we made a fuse by coating some string in hot wax and then dragging it through the mixture, filled a baked bean tin with the rest of it, sealed the tin… it blew a tree out of the ground.
We quickly learned to use less of it.
Before that, a mixture of powdered non-safety match heads and flint chips provided endless hours of fun.
When I was 15 two friends and I made some sugar + potassium chlorate rockets. Our third launch went beautifully straight up, leaving a dense linear trail of white smoke. Unfortunately, a F-84 in final approach to the nearby Air Force base almost intersected the smoke trail and took evasive action to avoid it. Our chemicals and all associated hardware disappeared before he landed. We didn’t make more rockets for a while.
When people on here use the phrase “intent isn’t magic” they are talking specifically of splash damage and/or insensitively discussing sensitive subjects. The point being, of course, that regardless of whether or not it was your intent to hurt someone’s feelings, the fact remains that you have. This situation is quite different; if no one was hurt, and she didn’t intend to hurt anyone, then this punishment is way, way, way over the top. She deserves a short-term suspension for being reckless, and that’s it. When it comes to crime, mens rea matters.
I have a feeling txpiper believes this girl is in the real problem group.
That generated UFO reports in the paper, not that I know anything about it.
STRICTLY second hand. Srsly.’
Helium balloons with glowsticks tied in the strings and launched at night can get this result too.
The activities discussed in my post #105 were carried out mostly between the ages of 14 and 16… which was 2004 to 2006. If I remember rightly, the gunpowder incident was the summer of ’05. If by “you can’t do anything like that now” you mean we couldn’t do it at school, then you’d be right. But trust me, we did a lot of stuff like that outside of school.
I wrote this essay several years ago about how things were in the good old days:
Busts or Booms? 2007-04-17 04:21:39
Ahh! First loves!—And no, I’m not waxing sentimental about Mandy Erlenbach , or that girl that time in Barcelona near the Sagrada Familia, nor Bettina Wirtz on student exchange from Hannover or was it Hamburg: no … no … you see the other day I saw an article on a news site about some teenager or other who was arrested for making explosives; and it immediately reminded me of my first love…
Back when I was young, many a long and torturous year and mile ago; back at school in England; back when one of my kinder nicknames was ‘Professor’ often (boys being of course boys in their dealings with the more original thinker) with the co-cognomen of ‘Leery’; back in my rooty East Anglia-of-the-beautiful-Broads (not the aforementioned girls, but rather small and lovely lakes); back (to make a long story less long) around 1960 there was, in nearby Great Yarmouth, a chemist’s shop.
Now an English chemist’s shop was (in fact still is) what you Americans would call a pharmacy. And this one; independent, dark and seemingly from an age even earlier than that of my tale; was a rich and sparkling cave of delight to a lover of chemistry.
Being myself at the time a member of the boys-will-of-course-be-boys-brigade my love of chemistry, and my main claim to fame at school, centred on making things that went, if not bump in the night, then bang at preferably the most unexpected of times.
I made gunpowder, and chlorate’n’sugar, and some really quite exotic explosives—all of which, or at least the ingredients for all of which, could be bought at that chemist’s shop in profusion and often in quite obvious and promiscuous proximity. Why on a time projecting to create that simple (simple at least to make), but extremely unstable and high, explosive Nitrogen Triiodide , I went in and purchased Iodine crystals and .880 Ammonia and a packet of filter papers to collect the precipitate—not since that old joke about the little shop on the corner where you could buy a big bag of rat poison … and a rat … has such obtuseness been observed in the commercial sector—I mean, I mean, short of asking him outright if he had anything that I could spread, when damp onto, say, the bottom of a toilet seat, that when dry would explode loudly enough to induce abject hysterical diarrhoea into anyone using said seat, could I have been any more obvious? We are talking here of a compound that in tiny quantities, when dry and prodded gently with a fairly long stick, would leave the ears ringing unanswerably.
The list of chemicals so purchased frightens the mature me: I got red and yellow phosphorous, sodium and potassium and magnesium and powdered aluminium metals, conc. (indeed fuming) H2SO4 and HNO3 and a whole pharmacopœia of other nasties.
Then there was the incident of Mike and the matchlock. Mike Playle (or Bucket as we hypocoristically hypo-lambdacised his last name) was into engineering (and indeed survived and is an engineer to this very day) and our Bucket built a matchlock rifle (though it was actually smooth bored) and I made gunpowder for it, a good batch—a damn good batch; and one day, out on Aldeby Marshes, to test it he took careful aim down a long water-filled dyke, fired, sent his slug to splash … Oh a good hundred yards down the dyke—and the end-plug of the gun (thank goodness he must have flinched as he fired) to whistling past his ear almost as far behind him. Now THAT was what I called a good batch of gunpowder, and a bit of good luck that day for Mike, who of course just managed to avoid kicking the bucket.
Now-a-days no doubt I would be arrested as a potential terrorist or worse, but even back in those less paranoid times, of course, things still came to a head—quite literally, and indeed to mine! When working on some solid rocket fuel and wearing a safety mask like a wimp I raised the grubby thing for a moment for a clearer view of my work at the exact moment that the mix chose to demonstrate how unstable both it and my fate could be. I ended up in a lot of pain and hospital, with eyes like frosted glass and a face like a jack-o-lantern long after halloween.
That was a pretty good batch too.
Finally: I suppose if they HAD been a bit more strict in those days both my eyes would now work as Nature and the makers of Jaws-3D (not to mention those horrible red and green lensed glasses) intended, but what can you do…
Cheerio for now
from the quasi-monocular
Yep, dumbshit thing to do. Twice. But I was young and stupid. Well, it was last year, so not so young.
Actually, really dumb, but with a grain of safety. The first time I didn’t load enough dry ice, so I had a 1/2 litre bottle expand to the size of a volleyball, but not detonate. A few tossed tools later I got it to trigger. Then realized I hadn’t warned my wife.
The next one was enough dry ice, but a much stronger bottle. Cracked the sink, blew off the ceiling tiles, impressed the kids. But we were smart enough to leave the room. Then I realized my once again unwarned wife was in the room above.
Clearly a woman with the patience of a saint :)
Also, I feel like there might be a good “domestic terrorism” joke in there somewhere.
When I was in college, a student accidentally made trinitrotoluene (it was supposed to be nitrotoluene, but someone cooked it wrong or something).
Um. I did this. Apparently you are supposed to stop when it is yellow, not keep boiling it until it goes through orange (DNT) all the way to red (TNT).
On topic, while I agree that trying this girl with criminal charges is way over the top, she did essentially create a bomb in school and she is very lucky that no-one was hurt. What she did was extremely silly, she knew that it was going to create an explosive and she was old enough to know better.
I dunno, PZ, while I’m trenchantly in favour of science education (being a chem bod myself once upon a time), I don’t think that the fear of stifling her curiosity is enough.
Felony charges, way over the top, quick reading of the comments everyone agrees on this, expulsion, meh I dunno, seems harsh but I assume she will have the opportunity to appeal and make her case, sounds like the principal will be on her side if she does appeal.
The issue I have is the rampant misinformation and railing against political correctness by people who obviously cherry picked things from the article. Reading some of these comments you would think the poor girl was in science class and just added too much vinegar to a beaker of baking soda and was promptly arrested and persecuted for it.
The reporting on this was atrocious and seems specifically designed to bring out the outrage and whargarble of the anti-education and the “political correctness is killing us all!!1!” brigade.
David Marjanović says
Depends on how much she likes explosions, I guess.
…Where was I? Ah, yeah:
*bursting into silent laughter*
But, seriously, making the river that alkalic was not a nice move.
*rageflail* This is why you can’t have nice things!!! The ability to sue at the drop of a needle is ridiculous and counterproductive; suspension is ridiculous and counterproductive; zero-tolerance policies are bound to go kafkaesque (see comment 88 for a start); the charges of bias come anyway, see comment three.
What is best is when the chemistry teacher does the crazy shit for you so you don’t have to. Mine did that. Merrily made tear gas every year (not the actual police-grade stuff, but… tear gas); made nitroglycerin in a special course and hit it with a hammer* a few weeks after having us make and ignite gunpowder; inhaled hydrogen to make his voice funnier; let us smell nitrobenzene**; warned us about sink reactions by telling us about the time he accidentally made hydrogen cyanide in the sink.
He let us play with dry ice but not with mercury. Mercury fumes are srs bzns. Didn’t let us pipet anything with our mouths either.
* Nothing happened. It wasn’t dry. Problem is, you can’t dry it. You could put it in an exsiccator, but you couldn’t take it out again – the exsiccator would take you out.
** Like benzaldehyde (marcipan), only deadlier.
…Maybe that can be justified if cheating once is considered evidence of general dishonesty that’s incompatible with being a scientist. But if so, why only fail that course? Why not kick them out of the university system altogether?
LOL. No, dude, you simply have no idea of the world.* The USA is more paranoid than much more liberal places; fear causes conservativism.
* That’s one reason why I used to think you were a teenager.
Do tell: who is the problem segment?
Oh yes, it does.
Note the obvious veiled bigotry behind the texpip’s “problem segment” comment.
Pathetic and disgusting.
PZ Myers says
I would not disagree at all with the point that what she did was stupid and needs correction. Correction, not expulsion. Safety standards are there for a purpose, and what she did was unsupervised and risky.
The only debate here should be about the appropriate punishment. I say kicking her out altogether is extreme; taking that interest and using it to create a future chemist would be better for all.
True. Looking back to my own chemistry lessons I can’t say they were entirely free of drama, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve expulsion. Even for shining a green LED through a beaker of phenol crystals and trying to get my classmate to eat them on the grounds that “if they do escape, then they will be working their magic upon somebody else instead of upon you!”.
Perhaps a two week suspension, plus get her to write an essay about safety procedures? I dunno, I’m not an educator so disciplining teenagers is not exactly my area of expertise. It would be a shame, as you say, if her interest in smells and bangs was entirely killed.
Typical texpip. Asked for citations, he fails to give any and attempts some pitiful distracting irrelevant pap.
The texpip’s transparently political claims regarding “liberal” school administrators (the actions described by PZ here are anything but liberal), national “progressives” (the actions described by PZ here are anything but progressive, and local to boot), “problem” segments (extraordinary bigoted claims require particularly extraordinary evidence), and laws that “incriminate everyone” are what require citations.
Unsurprisingly, the texpip has none.
What I’ve noticed is that almost every school administrator I’ve ever met was politically conservative.
Most of the teachers are liberal but then they’ve tended to be more understanding and have better senses of humor than the (politically conservative) school administrators.
Funny how reality seems to diverge from this guy’s preconceptions.
John Horstman says
Um, she made a bomb. In a schoolyard. A small one to be sure, but it’s still a bomb. I’m intimately familiar with the exact explosive she made: I used to do this all the time (I’ve also made my own black powder, flash powder, thermite, gel incendiaries, and nitrate explosives) – in relative isolation, where the risk to others if something went wrong was minimal, and with goggles and gloves and heavy clothing to mitigate possible damage from accidental shrapnel. The school’s behavior is not an overreaction – making/exploding bombs at a school is not okay, except under very closely-supervised conditions in a classroom with extensive guidance and safety gear for everyone around. Even if the bomb itself is almost certain to be harmless, an explosion in a populated area could trigger a panic, which DOES have a good chance of injuring someone. And Wilmot was behaving in a seriously negligent and possibly (as far as she knew) dangerous manner:
She wasn’t conducting a science experiment – had she been doing so, she would have, say, read a book about the reaction she was using and known what to expect.
Yes, we’re aware. No one is arguing she doesn’t deserve punishment. We’re saying felony charges and expulsion are way over the top.
LykeX @ 97:
Point taken and I agree. I just got a general sense from the OP and some of the comments that people think she should be congratulated for her curiosity and hardly, if at all, reprimanded.
PZ corrected that notion in #118 as have others, so I retract my complaint. I think in general people agree that she should certainly be admonished but that the actions taken so far by law enforcement and the school are ridiculously over the top.
Re: 106 paulburnett 2 May 2013 at 6:15 am (UTC -5):
Spouse has a story about not-so-accidentally firing off a model rocket – not a tiny one, but a scale Estes Phoenix missile model. Those things were big! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN7SoAvvoUI In her story, they’re doing it off in a field of scrub and some helicopters come across in a formation (Oklahoma, bases nearby) and so they fire this one off and then spend the next hour hiding from close overflights. o-o Stupid, stupid.
Re: 122 John Horstman 2 May 2013 at 10:50 am (UTC -5)
Mmm. The same place that has zero-tolerance rules tend not to have books that explain how these experiments work… You know, to not encourage this behavior.
The US continues its slide from the leader of the free world to its laughing stock..
Won’t a felony conviction preclude that? (And voting?)
I have to say, the main thing I am taking away from this thread is that I did not blow up nearly enough stuff as a kid! I did however discover the fun of sitting in my ceramic bathtub (I was 9), spraying lysol around the rim & then dropping a match and Bam! I’m in a ring of fire!
Unfortunately, when I showed my five year old brother (trying to be the cool older sister), he tattled. I got spanked.
If she’s tried in juvenile court, her record is wiped clean when she becomes an adult.
And even if its not, in the current situation she just needs to go to a gun show, and she can get pretty much anything that detonates gunpowder and accelerates slugs without (*wink**wink*) a background check. Or she could buy it through a private sale (also no background check).
Funny Diva says
Josh, Official SpokesGay @1
looks like the prosecutor made up her mind pretty damned quickly…in Ms Wilmot’s case, but not in one that resulted in an actual death.
Prosecutor Behind Kiera Wilmot Arrest Filed No Charges For White Teen Who Killed Little Brother
Make of that what you will.
Another place to express your opinion:
Do you think the Bartow teen accused of setting off an explosive on school grounds should face charges?
The link to the ADA who is overprosecuting this girl does not work. The ADA must not like criticism and has pulled the plug on the link.
Funny Diva says
Another takedown of how Ms Wilmot was treated by the “adults” concerned.
Kiera Wilmot: how her arrest and expulsion exposes America’s racial discipline gap
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Ex per’ i ment, n: the process by which one carefully determines in advance exactly how something would work through reading and abstract thinking.
I think claiming she built a “bomb” acid or otherwise is a real reach, and I can’t help but think that it’s rooted in the kind of ideology and mindset that Sikivu Hutchinson wrote about over on black skeptics blog:
There is a petition over at Change.org asking Florida to dismiss the charges: