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Thoughts on Kiera Wilmot: Mentor curiosity to create future scientists

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

03-05-2013 12:30 CDT

Topics: personal stories

Please bear with me -- this blog entry has nothing to do with planets but a lot to do with society.

For the last two days, my Twitter feed has been roiling with outrage about the story of Kiera Wilmot (followed up here and here; search on the hashtag #KieraWilmot for a taste). Here are the alleged facts of the case: on Monday, April 22, a 16-year-old girl brought an 8-ounce water bottle containing a small amount of drain cleaner (which contains hydrochloric acid) and some aluminum foil with her to school, Bartow High School in Polk County, Florida. According to the incident report, the idea was an unnamed friend's. While on the school property but unsupervised by a teacher, before school hours, she mixed the two materials because she was curious about what would happen. She expected some kind of chemical reaction and some smoke. Indeed, the hydrochloric acid and aluminum reacted, producing aluminum chloride and hydrogen gas, creating a small amount of smoke and a loud bang as the pressure of the hydrogen gas popped the bottle. It was a loud bang but a small event; no one was injured and no property was damaged.

Alarmed by the bang, a school official, Dan Durham investigated, and Kiera "told him she was conducting a science fair experiment." Durham "then checked with Wilmot's science teacher who advised in no way was [sic] Wilmot's actions part of any class work." This is where the story diverges from sanity. Durham called the police. The police arrived, read Kiera her Miranda rights, arrested her, handcuffed her, and took her into custody. They contacted State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty, who ordered the police to charge Kiera Wilmot as an adult with two felonies: "possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property F.S.S. 790.115 and making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device F.S.S. 790.161." Meanwhile, under the school's zero-tolerance policy, Wilmot has been expelled. Wilmot is a student who Principal Durham described as "a good kid" who "has never been in trouble before.... She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don't think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did.  Her mother is shocked too."

My Twitter feed is going crazy because of course it mostly contains scientists, and there are few of us scientists who did not play with fire or chemicals growing up, because we were curious to see what would happen. And we knew it wasn't entirely safe and that our parents wouldn't want us to blow things up, so we often did it when parents weren't around. Mom, don't read the following sentence: I set lots of fires in our backyard in Dallas and tried burning all kinds of different stuff because I wanted to see what would happen. Seeing matter transform before our eyes is magical. It's unfortunate but true that it's easier to explore this kind of transformation in destructive ways (burning things, disassembling previously perfectly functioning machines) than in constructive ways -- you have to take things apart before you can learn how to build things. Although this was the first I'd heard of them, so-called "Drano bombs" are evidently popular with kids, most of whom presumably want to just make something blow up, though they have sometimes been used for pranks, with potentially dangerous consequences. A blogger named Southern Fried Scientist has assembled stories of scientists blowing things up as kids, and others have pointed out that neuroscientist Cornelia Bargmann, who will be leading President Obama's much balyhooed brain-mapping project, tells a harrowing childhood story of her and friends stealing sodium metal from her chemistry laboratory and blowing a toilet off the wall while in high school.

I have complicated feelings about these stories, because I know that this kind of self-driven inquisitive drive to find out how things work is at the root of what makes good scientists. Yet, as a parent of two young girls, I have concerns about children playing with things that go boom without sufficient thought for the consequences. (Please, please, find some other way of satisfying your curiosity than throwing a lump of sodium metal into a toilet....)

There's a lot that is still not known about the specific incident at Bartow High School, primarily because (as far as I can tell) neither Kiera nor her parents have made any public statements, so we do not have her side of the story. On the face of it, the punishment appears to be insanely out of proportion to the crime. She is being expelled from school because of a zero-tolerance policy that prevents the school principal from applying any discretion in the case. And then she is, totally inexplicably, being charged as an adult with violent felonies by a state attorney. For context, the same state attorney, just days later, did not charge another teen with any crime after that child accidentally killed his own brother. Glotfelty described that event, accurately in my opinion, as a "tragic accident." Pressing charges would not bring the dead child back to life, and the surviving brother's personal horror is only beginning. Kiera's experiment was stupid but not tragic, causing no harm to anyone or anything. It was also, according to one retired lawyer, likely not a crime, due to Kiera's evident lack of violent intent and the fact that the device was likely not actually destructive. She deserves punishment and needs to consider what might have happened, but such punishment can be accomplished within family and school. Why charge her with a crime at all, and why charge her as an adult? It's senseless. Lack of discretion got her expelled, too much discretion got her formally charged.

One question that a lot of people are asking is: why did she do this at school? We don't know, because Kiera and her family haven't spoken publicly. There could be lots of different reasons. In her place I might have pulled something similar at school because I thought my friends would think it was cool. Except I wouldn't have done it unsupervised, because I had awesome science teachers who I talked to a lot, and they would've said, if you want to do that experiment before school, fine, but let's do it safely under the fume hood and talk about what reaction is taking place here, okay? Ooh, and then maybe we can trap that hydrogen gas that's being evolved and then you'll really get to see something explode. Kiera either did not seek out, or did not have access to, such guidance for her curiosity, we don't know which; all we know is that it was the bad choice to pick an unsupervised spot at school for the place that she would test what would happen when she mixed drain cleaner and aluminum foil that has landed her in so much trouble.

As a teen I did things as stupid as what Kiera did, as did most of the scientists on my Twitter feed. I've even been arrested for things much more stupid than what Kiera did (misdemeanor theft, shoplifting when I was 14 or 15, if you must know; I was sentenced to a weekly sort of community group therapy). For some reason, nobody charged me with felonies as an adult when I did those things. Adults' responses to my stupid actions were always geared toward shaping me into a better and more productive member of society. It is hard to avoid the supposition that the reason for this disparity is racial -- Kiera is African-American, and of course, I'm white. There is plenty of evidence for a racial disparity in the enforcement of school discipline.

Teenagers are smart in some ways and incredibly stupid in others. They often fail to predict the consequences of their actions. That word, "consequences," has come up a lot in the coverage of this story. Going back to the original article, the principal is quoted as saying "We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions." Yes, this is an important lesson, and an important one for teenage kids. But let's examine the consequences of convicting someone of a felony, shall we? I think perhaps we should also examine the consequences of failing to provide educational environments in which students can safely satisfy their intellectual curiosity, and of failing to use teachable moments like Kiera Wilmot's "bad choice" to encourage curious kids to experiment with their world in safe ways. Predicting all of the possible ways an experiment can go bad and taking the right kinds of precautions is what many engineers do for a living. Did Kiera have parents or teachers who could have or would have supervised her in trying out this and many more experiments? We don't know. But even if she did before, she doesn't now, because she has been expelled and arrested. If the felony charges are allowed to go through, this promising child's future is over. I do think this is wrong, very wrong, and I encourage readers to sign these and ACLU petitions if you agree.

When I attended the American Astronomical Society meeting last year, I was uncomfortably aware of how the meeting was even whiter and more male than my usual planetary science meetings. Then I stepped in to a public outreach event where Bobak Ferdowsi was speaking to high school students, and that was the one place where I was in a diverse room, with boys and girls, whites and Blacks and Koreans and Latinos. What is preventing these kids from growing up to become the scientists speaking in all the rest of the rooms in that hall? Kiera Wilmot's story is an example of the ill-guided, childish curiosity of an African-American girl being utterly crushed. Not only is her curiosity being crushed, but with the felony charges, every hope she has of being a productive member of society is being crushed, too. Perhaps she's not alone. This does not make our society safer or more productive; quite the opposite.

So what can we do, either generally for students from underserved communities, or specifically for Kiera Wilmot, to make a path for them to become scientists and engineers? For Kiera's specific case, please follow Scientific American blogger and biologist DNLee, who is tracking the story and trying to answer that question. For the more general case, I don't have great answers, but this whole episode is making me realize that one constructive thing to do is to work to connect underserved kids with mentoring and support for following their scientific curiosity.

It seems like Science Fair is one way to do this, but Science Fair has this disturbing trend where only really rich kids who are mentored by professional scientists and doing projects that cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars appear to be winning recognition. [EDIT: I just remembered that it's a post on well-meaning discouragement of poor students from doing Science Fair projects that brought DNLee's blog to my attention in the first place.] A stray remark on Twitter yesterday caught my eye: journalist Jeff Foust quoted NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as saying that 90% of new engineers at Johnson Space Center participated in FIRST Robotics programs as kids. Get FIRST into underserved schools!! But maybe it doesn't need to be anything so formal. Maybe all we need is after-school clubs supplied with a teacher or parent, safety glasses, and a fire extinguisher, and let kids safely do what they want to do -- take things apart, and blow a few things up -- so they can begin to learn how things work, and then, even before they grow up, kids can start to create new things that work better.


UPDATE May 4: Journalist Jennifer Welsh at Business Insider has posted an interview with the family's lawyer: "Hoping to prevent felony charges from being filed." The lawyer indicates that signing the petitions is helpful.

See other posts from May 2013


Or read more blog entries about: personal stories


Mark Adler: 05/03/2013 01:26 CDT

Zero tolerance means that zero thought and zero common sense are permitted to be employed. I'm so glad that we're teaching our kids how not to think. "Zero tolerance" is one of the stupidest memes ever perpetrated.

Saul Cohen: 05/03/2013 01:41 CDT

The problem with the outrage associated with this story is that this was not an "experiment". It was just a bog-standard Drano bomb. Was the girl duped by her friend? Did she not know she was constructing a bomb? Did she not realize that setting off a bomb that would disperse caustic reagents is dangerous? There are certainly questions we can't answer based on the story as reported. Since there appears to be no malicious intent, this is a crime of stupidity, and leniency appears to be called for. The overzealous prosecution of minor incidents by self-aggrandizing DAs and the bullying tactic of overcharging someone to get them to plead down are major problems. However, it's very much a judicial question and not at all a scientific one. There is just no reasonable scientific justification for constructing a Drano bomb. For example, I cannot justify driving 120mph in a 30mph zone because I wanted to test wind resistance as a physics experiment. Science just doesn't come into this.

Anonymous: 05/03/2013 05:05 CDT

@ Saul Cohen The point in question is not whether this was a legitimate experiment: it obviously was not. The point is that the *apparent* cause for her actions was not malicious intent, but curiosity- something that schools are supposed to be fostering in students. I remember, in 7th grade, my science teacher/coach gathered a bunch of students after class to show us an experiment where he mixed some chemicals in a 1 liter coke bottle. A group of us waited around after school to see what would happen. Not to record detailed notes about the reaction or to make careful observations; we stuck around because we wanted to see something blow up. We were curious. The experiment ultimately was a little underwhelming, but the point is that the students (and the teacher) were motivated by (apparently) the same motives as this girl. We just happened to participate in an officially sanctioned way. I see her plight as an an extreme failure of justice. This is absolutely an opportunity to teach her a constructive lesson, not to severely punish her in a way that would (perhaps already did?) damage her for the rest of her life.

x3n0n: 05/03/2013 05:52 CDT

I remember seeing something similar in Young Thomas Edison on cable a little while ago. (Is making iodated nitrogen in chem lab now a no no?)

Bob Isch: 05/03/2013 08:16 CDT

Wow Emily - that is some passionate writing. I imagine your kids wearing lab coats and goggles blowing things up in the backyard with Mom - truly awesome! However, one wonders if all those outraged by the plight of Ms. Wilmot will be the same ones advocating for this young man: Some might think it doesn't matter as long as there's outrage. I think it matters. It would be interesting to hear what others think though. Take care, -bob

Mike Hopkins: 05/03/2013 08:44 CDT

The problem is law, regulation, and rule makers who in an effort to look "tough" on wrongdoing fail to include some concept of _mens rea_ in the rules they write. This is bad enough for adults, but is an abomination when applied to kids. She was not intending to blow things up and thus should not be punished as as if she did.

spacecadet33: 05/03/2013 09:24 CDT

Thank you for this story. It is the most balanced and honest editorial I have read thus far. The crux of the matter is that Kiera Wilmot did something that she should not have been doing but the charges she is facing are disproportionately severe to the act she committed. Her actions were not with criminal intent. Her behavior shows this! I have been trying to get more information on this story in the last few days myself because I recently agreed to submit content for a website an anthropologist/linguist friend of mine has developed. But something fishy is going on. Why do say this? The chief of Police for Bartow has had his email address removed from the Police Dept's website. When I called and asked for it, I was hung up on twice, once I was left on hold for 30 mins ( literally) and the last time I called back I was purposely given a FAKE email address! This was after I informed them that, according to the Public Information Act, I - as a citizen - had a right to this information. Also, the "Contact Us" options and buttons have been rendered inactive for Tammy Glotfelty's site as well as State Attorney Jerry Hall's, and all email adresses are mysteriously invalid! Check it out for yourself! Makes you wonder...... All in all, I have mixed feelings about Kiera's reasoning and logic but I don't have any about the way this case or Miss Wilmot is being handled. It really is an outrage!! I have drafted a petition in support of her. Please read, sign if you agree, and SHARE!

Em: 05/03/2013 09:54 CDT

I think the most important thing right now is making sure that Kiera knows how many people are supporting her in this. She likely feels very embarrassed and alienated, so any message of support that reaches her can help reduce the terrible psychological impact her punishments are having. Also, since there are so many scientists supporting her, is there a way to set up some kind of award or scholarship in her name? I think this kind of thing could really help her and others feel rewarded and encouraged for expressing curiosity, despite the oppressive reactions of authorities.

Richard Berry: 05/03/2013 09:58 CDT

The essence of science is trying things and observing what happens. Heck, you can blow the cap off a soda-pop bottle with vinegar and baking soda. I discovered that common household bleach and detergent generate chlorine gas while trying to clean some flower pots. And in high-school chem lab, while running a molecular weight experiment, I generated phosgene gas (CCl2O) which had been used in WWI on the battlefield. It smells like new-mown hay. I knew something interesting was happening, so I asked the teacher. She calmly asked me to review possible reactions between CCl4 (carbon tet) and the oxidizing portion of the Bunsen burner flame. Back in the early 1900s, they used glass bulbs of carbon tet to extinguish fires, creating a poisonous gas. If her school were built in 1900, that would have been the fire extinguisher. The problem here is science-ignorant administrators who apparently have never tried anything "interesting" in their lives. What might happen when you put sodium hydroxide and aluminum in a bottle is not particularly obvious. As taught at the high-school level, acid plus a metal generates hydrogen plus a metal salt. It's not clear what combining a base with a metal might do. With many metal, such as iron, nothing happens. Aluminum is unusual, and the reaction (the evolution of hydrogen gas) is not at all obvious. The take-home for Kiera should be "don't try experiments in a closed container." So...did she have ready access to a fume hood? Did her teachers know enough to spot a bright kid and help her to understand redox reactions? Or was she stuck in an environment in which science consists of "canned facts," with equal time for cavemen and dinosaurs.

Elias Lostrom: 05/04/2013 06:33 CDT

As kids we made rockets using brass curtain rails and fueled with zinc dust and sulfur. Great fun and an excellent learning experience. We followed the safety rules and always kept a safe distance from the rockets which flew very high. I was totally amazed when at a parents day we visited our kids school and found that the chemistry labs were devoid of any but the most inert substances. no phosphorous, no sodium, no mercury... they did have some copper sulphate. Yes, the dumbing down continues and that head that called the cops need to be fired.

david: 05/04/2013 06:45 CDT

This story is just crazy! A kid blew a plastic bottle in the school premises. This makes a loud noise. OK... what's next in the news? A school official calls the police. A school official calls the police? The *state* then charges the kid as an adult with violent felonies? Who's committing a crime here? What is there in this story that justifies such a long post? I honestly don't see any nuances. Just stupidity from the adult side of the story and blatant disrespect for children's rights.

RanJones: 05/04/2013 08:36 CDT

This story by itself would not be alarming. We'd all be sure the charges would be dropped and Kiera would be welcomed back to school. But with all the anti-science, intolerant, racist, conspiracy theory stuff going on in some states, it scares me to the bones.

Ralph Lorenz: 05/04/2013 09:02 CDT

Actually this reaction (which I played with as a kid - at home! there are still patches on my parents' old lawn where nothing will grow) is nothing to do with hydrochloric acid. It's actually quite an interesting and unusual situation - alumnium metal is very reactive but is normally passivated by a thin oxide layer. Similarly, its reaction with sodium hydroxide is usually inhibited by solid alumnium hydroxide which forms first. However, in hot water, the aluminium hydroxide itself reacts further with the sodium hydroxide to form sodium aluminate which is soluble, and thus the hydroxide-aluminium reaction can proceed. The reaction is strongly exothermic (produces steam) and liberates lots of hydrogen (I filled bin liner bags to make balloons). The reaction needs to be warm to get going, but this usually happens 'in the field' anyway, because the dissolution of sodium hydroxide in water is itself strongly exothermic. So there is a lot of interesting stuff happening here, lots to learn about (but also a number of ways to get burned/injured..)

Ethan Walker: 05/04/2013 02:26 CDT

I am skeptical that she had no idea what was going to happen, but at worse this should be classified as mischief. I certainly engaged in far worse on my own high school campus, and now I'm a chemist. If we ruined the futures of everyone who engaged in this sort of activity when they were young, we would have a great deal fewer imaginative people in every sort of professional capacity.

Barry Kort: 05/04/2013 02:31 CDT

ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education. Please see the discussion thread there: Call for Response from STEM Educators: Sixteen-year old honor student, Kiera Wilmot, expelled, arrested and charged with a felony over a commonplace science project.

Bob Ware: 05/04/2013 08:34 CDT

This is a outrage. I signed the petition. I'm sorry to report that my signature was only #309. Sure common sense was over ruled by curiosity (possibly) but regardless, this is so extreme. The other death case should carry involuntary manslaughter to keep all things fair however it does not.

Bob Ware: 05/04/2013 08:39 CDT

Just to clarify the other case, it was a horrible accident and no charges should be filed, just as in this case, no charges should be filed.

Fred Merchant: 05/04/2013 08:50 CDT

In my neighborhood we used to make pipe bombs and small rockets using CO2 cartridges (unless they exploded, too). We used match heads at first and them progressed to aluminum chloride, sulfer and carbon. Cool stuff. My dad owned a pharmacy and we'd swipe the chemicals. We made some serious stuff! The only casualty was one friend almost blew his thumb off while crimping the end of a pipe bomb with a hammer (how dumb was he!). The police (and my parents) gave us a serious talk!! That was probably back in 1959 or 1960! No jail time. No lawyers. No problem (except for the thumb). Eventually I went to college and earned a BSEE. Doing that today would make me a criminal on and then on welfare for the rest of my life, I suppose. That's progress. Maybe not. My heart is with Kiera. I hope the "system" will see they're doing more harm than she did.

Anthony Fisk: 05/05/2013 09:21 CDT

I do recall emulating 'Orion drives' with tin cans and firework crackers (we got some quite spectacular launches!) This case is clearly a gross over-reaction, with the only 'correction' needed being something like a detention for the student, and a safety lecture from the teacher (who should, perhaps, have given it earlier? As you say, not all the facts are up). Along with that other recent tragedy in Boston, it makes me (speaking from abroad) wonder if a subconscious association has developed between 'terrorism' and bombs, as opposed to the 'safety' of gun ownership? I'll leave readers to play with that explosive mixture in their own heads, and see what happens.

Bob Ware: 05/05/2013 06:38 CDT

Back in the day after July 4th I's collect up the residual fireworks and taught my self how to make such products explode vs flash fire. If I wrote or taught some one that I'd probably be arrested under some needless Gov't 'interfering with my life' law. This is also to much gov't. It is to big and this is a classic case of point. I hope many others sign the petition for that girls sake. Curiosity over common sense. Oops. It looks like we've all been there before big brother butted in needlessly.

Fred Merchant: 05/05/2013 10:25 CDT

Another comment: What would have been the outcome if she had used Mentos and a liter of Coca-Cola?

5thmonkey: 05/06/2013 11:25 CDT

Emily- To answer your question why Kiera Wilmot would do this at school?: I read that she lives in an apartment building. (Don't know if that is true or not.) This might be an important fact as she might have had no access to outdoor or yard space to conduct a curiosity driven experiment.

5thmonkey: 05/06/2013 11:34 CDT

The irony might be that she might have felt 'safe' conducting an experiment on school grounds. I believe she did this prior to school ( reports mention 7 am). If she lives in an apartment and has no access to wide open spaces, then arriving early to school to conduct what might be a brief experiment might be first of all easy, and secondly a more controlled area than a random park or field. I live in an apartment and homeschool my two children. It is a challenge to do unusual 'experiments' or even paint with strong paint model cars, planes, Pinewood derby cars, etc. School grounds would have been a familiar area, she would have access to a restroom, running water, etc. All things she may have wanted.

victorya87: 05/06/2013 12:46 CDT

Dear Emily, I created an account on a science blog site just to say: Thank You for recognizing these issues and writing about it. As a Black female educator, I appreciate all the points you hit on so accuratly - her teacher is not the advocate for her that he/she should have been, I hate science and still remember talking over crazy experiments w/ my teachers and sometimes watching them do one or having them guide us. I've always thrown off a few stink bombs in the same school just to see if it would really work, lol. and this was at a public school w/ metal detectors so this girl's teacher has no excuse. I feel like she/he is the real culprit here. also, i've nannyied rich white children who are encouraged to make so much more mistakes b/c they have space at home or are at fancy private schools with the right equipment. You are right - her curiosity was crushed as well many other kids at that school from watching this horror happen to her. I wish you wouldn't have mentioned the white teen "getting away with murder" however - it saddens me that the racial divide is so evident yet somehow is still happening. The happenings in the Florida "justice system" disturb me. thanks again

changcho: 05/06/2013 02:27 CDT

God forbid one should fall prey to the US judicial system, which is clearly broken.

rhea: 05/06/2013 02:53 CDT

i find this so infuriating. when i was a freshman in high school one of the senior chem classes blew up the lab, making everyone else have to exit the building. did any of them get expelled or convicted for crimes? NO. they were kids, who wanted to blow things up and thankfully our teachers were understanding and were like, ok you didn't follow the instructions. that was bad. but you're also curious and trying new things, which is good! for new scientists that is really really good to encourage curiosity. sigh. i am not white, i did not go to a predominantly white school. i went to school in one of the few schools in an underprivileged area where teachers really wanted us to learn and tried to teach us equality and fairness along with whatever subject they were teaching us. i only wish this were true in more places. though i am thankful that people like you have spoken up about it so hopefully the adults making these drastic claims can think twice before seriously hurting this poor girl's future.

Doug: 05/06/2013 05:43 CDT

To the extent that I used to blow up and singe things as a youth in the spirit of experimentation and curiosity, I do have to have some sympathy for Kiera. On the other hand, to the extent I understand pretty intimately how public schools are supposed to function, I have to say that it was pretty dumb for her to do that experiment there, without teacher supervision. She has to understand that on school property, the faculty has legal responsibility for the health and safety of the kids, including Kiera. You can't blow that fact off. If Kiera wants to go injure herself or other kids in a vacant lot or her backyard, that's up to her. But school property has strict controls precisely for the well being of kids who go there. Those are kids whose families legally entrust the schools to take care of them. It is the responsibility of the school to make sure that risky behavior is not tolerated. Kids need to be aware of that fact and respect it. I don't think this should have been a matter of handcuffs or the police, but I think that some punishment was due. The experimentation and curiosity was defensible. The implementation of that experiment, with caustic fluid that in principle could have blinded a kid, was not. So lets not make excuses for her. We defend to the death the right to be curious and experiment, but we're smart enough to insist that it be done properly. There are "right ways" to do science. When we encourage kids to be scientists, let's teach the whole thing.

Zorbonian : 05/08/2013 03:36 CDT

Ahhhh . . . we have come to a sad state of affairs post 9/11. When I was in high school in a foreign country my friends and I used to drive by the Russian (at that time, Soviet Russian) Embassy. In the car we all would put on black helmets and slowly turn our heads toward the guards at the gate as we drove by. Would we do that now? Don't think so!! Not if we didn't want to get shot at (by the guards or by any law enforcement, regardless of their nationality). Yes, I agree that she should be punished, but it needs to be kept real. The maximum punishment should have been a suspension. Maybe police involvement could have been used as a scare tactic (deterrent), but not to the point of pressing charges.

Stephen Williams: 05/08/2013 07:18 CDT

I can't even count the number of times I (electricity) shocked myself as a kid. I grew up to be a computer scientist, but my office is loaded with open computers and exposed circuit boards. I still occasionally shock myself, but now I'm getting paid to do it. Bless my parents and grandparents. My wife, on the other hand, grew up with "helpful" parents who basically protected her and kept her hands off things, and I would have to say as an adult she is not exactly mechanically inclined. She is surrounded by a disfunction sphere of about 10' radius, within which machines spontaneously break:-/ She sticks with math. (The good news is, math is a useful skill. She teaches.)

Emily Lakdawalla: 05/08/2013 10:15 CDT

I just want to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments and conversation. Internet comments are so often a trollish wasteland -- this is a great exception. I'm continuing to follow the story and when I learn of something else that we can do to help, I'll post again. victorya87 : while I suspected that it might be true that the school grounds were the safest place Kiera could think of, I of course had no way to prove it. But it makes sense for someone living in a dense urban area that the more open space of a school might well be the safest facility a kid could think of to try something like this. I didn't say that, though, because I don't know that it's the truth, and I have to be careful to report only what I believe to be factual, and to identify hearsay as such.

frankbevan: 05/14/2013 07:26 CDT

6 HCl(aq) + 4 Al(s) → 2 Al2Cl3(aq) + 3 H2(g) = a bomb and tbf its not the norm for children to go into school and make bombs,and with this information acid/aluminum=bomb loads of children will now make bombs in parks and in fields with bigger bottles and more ingredient's You have to make sure she is made an example of because children will start losing hands/eyes and so on,its a harsh view--but then again its a harsh world we live in

Bob Ware: 05/14/2013 05:44 CDT

FrankBevan - point taken on she needs to realize she broke a rule and the school should give her an appropriate punishment at most. (such as cleaning the restrooms after school for 2 days with the custodians). But to go further because of actions others may do in the future cannot be applied to her. She is not and will not be responsible for those future actions of others.

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