On April 22, Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old public school student in Bartow, Florida did what any kid with an ounce of curiosity does: She performed an experiment. Like many acts of science, however, it didn't go as planned.
Wilmot allegedly mixed a few household chemicals in an eight-ounce water bottle, capped the lid, set it down, and stood back to watch, according to local news reports. She expected a little smoke to appear. Instead the top blew off and made a firecracker-like bang.
No one was hurt. No property was damaged. She didn't even run away. The principal's eyewitness account, along with those of Wilmot's friends and schoolmates, all suggest she was simply satisfying her curiosity on school property before classes began. "She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did," Bartow High School principal Ron Pritchard told 9news.com.
Despite praising Wilmot as a "good kid" who has "never been in trouble before," Polk County Public Schools trumpeted its zero-tolerance policies and called the police. They arrested Wilmot and charged her with two felonies. Now expelled, Wilmot may be forced to finish her education in a juvenile facility and graduate with a permanent record.
A big part of the problem here is fear. Schools have allowed it to guide student codes of conduct that ignore what science is, how it works, and the importance of experimentation in inspiring influential researchers. I'm specifically reminded of a piece called "Don't Try This At Home" by Steve Silberman, who reported on the increasing criminalization of garage chemistry.
The story ran seven years ago this month but is still surprisingly relevant. Silberman explores how and why chemistry kits and education became so toothless. As part of his reporting, he highlights prodigious scientists who owe their success to foolish childhood experimentation. Gordon Moore, who pioneered the integrated circuit and co-founded Intel, for example, created and detonated his own dynamite at age 11. David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard and father of Silicon Valley, proudly manufactured gunpowder as a kid. (Thomas Edison should have been in there, too -- he performed enough dangerous feats to fill his biographies.)
Other brainiacs regale us on the importance of backyard chemistry in leading to fruitful science careers, including neurologist Oliver Sacks, Don "Mr. Wizard" Herbert, Popular Science's own Theodore Gray, and Roald Hoffmann, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry. "There's no question that stinks and bangs and crystals and colors are what drew kids ... to science," says Hoffmann in Silberman's story. "Now the potential for stinks and bangs has been legislated out."
Silberman convincingly argues that fear of lawsuits (by manufacturers and teachers alike) have led U.S. educators to shy away from teaching science that poses any degree of danger. Schools have codified those fears in zero-tolerance policies that reject context and reason in delivering punishment. Suddenly, a popping soda bottle that hurts no one becomes a life-threatening explosive device.
Did Wilmot make a mistake? Yes. Should she carry two felonious charges into her adult life? No.
Kids are kids. Their futures ride on trying, failing, and learning from mistakes. Much of that happens during personal experimentation, and schools should equip them to do it responsibly, whether or not it happens on school property.
Sure, dangerous behaviors deserve punishment. But it's time we stop creating and acting on zero-tolerance school policies to dole them out. We need to treat kids as kids and give them a fair shake by weighing context, reason, and maturity -- not brand them as criminals when they create "stinks and bangs," either accidentally or intentionally, for experimentation's sake.
Fear gives the power for government to control our lives. As we give into fear and demand from the government to make us "feel safe", so leaves our liberties and freedoms.
Be careful what you ask for from big brother....... hmmm!
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By James Bamford03.15.12, 27:24 PM
I heard that the girl got in trouble but I didn't know that it was this bad (expulsion, criminal record, etc). All in favor of starting a petition?
Like PopSci mentioned, based on the zero-tolerance policy, Theo Gray's DIY book would be outlawed. DIY has fuelled the better parts of my childhood (reminisces to memory of first smoke bomb detonation) and it would be unpleasant if that were to stop for other children. Knowing the political leaders in my country, they may imitate the actions in America and enforce similar policies here in Canada.
I've seen several places carry this story as a "simple science experiment". She made a "Works Bomb" or "Drano Bomb" depending on your preference. I've made many of them in the past. They're really fun, I made many during high school and threw them in holes, buried them in sand, you name it. But, setting them off at school is just dumb. If she's so smart she should have known that. I'm sick of people saying "All she thought it would do was smoke a little". Well then why did she close the top? If you know your mixture is going to emit a gas you don't put it in an enclosed space. I'm not saying she deserved to get expelled, and as someone who loves chemistry so much I majored in it in college I too am sad that schools a neutering their science classes. But she did deserve to get in some sort of trouble. Despite her intent the danger was still there. Let her do that stuff at home all she wants. But everyone knows the rules change once you walk onto a school property.
Our Government is not what should be feared since it only an organization that we empower. All of the demogogoury that contiunes to make it an us vs them issue only worsens the problems that we face as a country. Yes, too many people are seeking security vs liberty, but that is because this country cannot focus on the issues that matter. Instead we are backbiting over morality when we should be concentrating on issues such as the original story and how to foster scientific curiousity.
What people are fearing is that they will be relegated to the fringe unless they fight to force people to be like them.
Good, now she'll major in something other than physical sciences when she goes to college. Truth is, theres already too many people majoring in physical sciences in this country (even getting something as simple as a postdoc is a b1tch and a half). If this weren't the case, there would be recruiters hiding in the bushes outside the chem or physics building like there are outside the engineering and computer buildings. Guess what, there aren't....
We called them two liter bombs. I am sure she just happened to choose the favorite chemical reaction of high school vandals for her experiment. I would love to see the evidence of science be performed stacked against a record of her internet search history. Following a recipe for making a bomb isn't science.
BTW, fire the principal that was an eyewitness to this. If she was performing this "experiment" under his observation, as eyewitness implies, he should have put an end to this before any chemicals where mixed. If he thought she was satisfying her (scientific) curiosity there should been some attempt to hold her to some modicum scientific rigor.
The real crime is the idea that safety isn't a useful subject. Everything from chainsaw, electricity, fast food, and firearm safety and everything in between ought to be a required subject.
I think the girl should be reprimanded for her actions but charging her with two felonies is quite excessive.
I remember a few kids from my middle school who used to intentionally burn lab tables in the middle of class...occasionally even when the teacher was in the room...and although they were often suspended, they didn't get charged with two felonies.
This country needs to put things into perspective. There are dozens of kids in school today who intentionally do very reckless things that put themselves and others in danger; and what's more...they KNOW that they are doing something dangerous....and, yet, they don't care. They think it is cool.
I would rather that the schools focus on expelling the routine troublemakers first.
People need to remember that these so-called "Bottle-Bombs" are actually rather popular with kids these days. I seriously doubt this kid was performing a simple "experiment" to discover something new and informative. No, it is well-established what they do. This sort of thing can be dangerous, since they have the potential to fling drain cleaner that contains sodium hydroxide all over onlookers, not to mention the projectiles created by broken plastic caps. There is a very good reason these things are strictly prohibited.
If you do not think they are all that bad, then think of this: I once had some punk neighbor kids blow one up in my mailbox, and it did some damage to the door, enough that it had to be replaced. If it had enough force to dent out the door of a mailbox and damage the hinges, imagine if it had gone off in someone's face.
They are not new, they are not a science experiment gone wrong, they are dangerous. Sorry, but I am not a fan of the misinformation and campaign to push this story into being all about a scientifically inquisitive child during a time when we need more children interested in science. I would wager that, since she has been credited with being very smart, she knew exactly what was going to happen before she did it, and yet did it anyway.
Kiera Wilmot was not “satisfying curiosity”.
There are so many household chemicals that the likelihood of any combination reacting like that is unlikely.
She likely knew already what to use and how to use it.
Why didn't she do it at home?
Apparently, she had indifference for what the outcome might be, in terms of damages for the school.
Technically, she is guilty of at least mischief and creating an unsafe environment.
Not quite the absolute reactionary based juvenile hammer we envisioned. Not quite, but it's getting close. The Witches Hammer being out of favor currently, the 3.o.1 upgrade(beta) says that simply moving the time up scale is best, because then you can select both boys and girls out for institutionalism. It's completely unreasonable that curiosity ever enter a kids' head in a compelling way again. Public schools aren't there to instill anything like that. Get them kids' eyes on the floor. As for the girl, the fact that she's now screwed for ANY top tier employment whether she pays for education herself or not(with this, she probably can't get grants) says that she'll be what? Teen mother? Lifelong minimum wage earner, at best.
Why have science prodjects or competitions in schools that at have zero tollorance when there is a possibility that somthing can go wrong. Was there guidelines for such science experiment that would prevent things like this from happening. Where is the teacher in checking out experiments before they are demonstrated before class or presented.
I feel a lawyer would have a field day wistth this. No prior record for her. No define rules as to what can or can't be used. Don't have zero tollorance if you don't have a check and ballance system in place. If I lived there I would picket in front of the school till I heard that she is cleared of her record and given an apology from all the Principal and police for not taking in the details that were not expressed here.
This story is just heart-breaking.
While the school or school system maybe standing firm by the local laws, they also illustrate complete lack of commonsense and true caring of this individual future, just to satisfy one administrator’s ego to prove a point.
What a f### individual!
I could see suspension or something, because making toilet cleaner bombs at school is just stupid and reckless.
But felonies? That's silly.
If justice were to be done then the school science staff and the head teacher must also be dismissed for supplying children with obviously dangerous chemicals and NOT GIVING ADEQUATE SUPERVISION TO PREVENT ACCIDENTS>>THE SCHOOL STAFF OBVIOUSLY FAILED IN THEIR DUTY OF CARE WITH THESE YOUNG CHILDREN. The subsequent actioning by the head of teaching failed his/her charges miserably,ergo, tthe head teacher must be dismissed .
@Maec Good point.
@etkallio Following ANY recipe is science. Especially one for a chemical reaction.
@Kevin Elzinga 1 I agree about going after routine troublemakers. Its almost as if the teachers are in cahoots with the bullies. That's why bullying got as bad as it is.
Without being a witness I doubt this girl didn't know the bottle would explode. But these are children, and LOTS of people play with this kind of stuff when they are young.
Restrictions or not the reality is this is something people do for fun, and it can be dangerous without proper guidance.
If children feel they cant get adults involved then the guidance factor is gone.
The result will be more damage, injuries and death.
When I was a kid we used metal cans as a reusable container for our explosions. I wont tell you how, but we learned from our parents how to do it safely, so nobody ever lost any body parts.
You should have seen what we could do to a toy soldier with some match heads and a power supply. Fun times!
Ignorance is not a solution. Teach children how to have fun safely, and allow them to have a childhood.
Unless that girl had put her "experiment" in a glass bottle the police should never have been called.
Unless she was a routine troublemaker she should never have been charged.
The girl definitely needs to be disciplined with some sort of crime especially if she knew that what she was doing might cause an explosion....and she very well may have known.
If she did NOT know, expulsion alone should suffice.
I would stop short of a felony though unless she was exhibiting a Jackass side to her personality as of late.
Felonies should be reserved for people who KNOWINGLY put others in danger for the sole sake of laughing like the guys on Jackass.
I think we all know the type of guys we are talking about.
The kind of guys who would have shoved the bottle in someone's pants just to watch the person jump around in pain when the bottle cap shot into his crotch.
I don't know what our society is coming to when THAT sort of thing is considered funny.
THOSE type of guys SHOULD be charged with a felony....not some girl who may have simply indulged a MOMENTARY fascination with things that go boom. No one was hurt, but did she take precautions? Was she negligent?
I WOULD be ok with a misdemeanor of some sort. How harsh of a misdemeanor would depend on the circumstances of the case.
Its funny, there are a lot of people commenting on the fact that "All the kids are doing it now a days" when at my school ive never even heard of these bombs or seen one be set off.How often do you hear about kids being sent off to prison because they were mixing house hold chemicals to make a bomb. not that many stories. God forbid anyone try to do an experiment now a days.
That's beyond overboard..
At school, the student should consult with the teacher first, then do paperwork to be sure he gets a full understanding of what should happen. Then if the teacher judges that the experiment would be safe, it is conducted in front of the class.
Also, the experiment should use as small a quantity of the chemicals as is possible to produce the results predicted by the previously done paperwork.
School-based discipline is appropriate in this case. Criminal charges are not appropriate.
This is just one more symptom of our broken educational system. Science is probably the most decrepit subject at this time -- I should know -- preK-grade 12 STEM has been my responsibility for 20+ years.
I still think using toothpicks for students to scrape their inner cheek for epithelial cells, to stain & examine under a light microscope, was a powerful lesson in its day. Unfortunately, the practice is still banned by the nanny state, which thinks toothpicks in mouths and killed cells on slides put kids at risk for AIDS, hepatitis and knowledge.
Now if we could just keep lunatics and semi-automatic weapons out of schools, we'd be teaching our kids how smart adults can be when they really put kids' safety first.
Our whole system is broken. What has happened to America? Why is everyone so afraid? Are you all really going to let Osama Bin Laden continue to win??? That's where this kind of fear comes from. Terrorism. People used to have sense in this country, but now everything is extreme. Extreme responses to things that could easily have been handled better.
This girl could have been reprimanded by the school and given a positive outlet in a chemistry class to guide her curiosity safely. Instead, she gets a face full of the atrocity that America is today: land of control, not freedom as she was told.
And for anyone who doesn't know what kind of explosion this was, go to youtube.
Overreaction. She is just a kid and curious.
L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian University
I disagree. Ive worked in IT for over a decade and developers and in general IT workers are clueless when it comes to science and math. They are usually are just really non-funny dry witted brick layers who only contribute by building code to make corporations rich.
So kids go out and continue getting those science and math degrees, the world needs you. You learn more about the world, are more well rounded and can logically outhink any computer science engineer. Then after that, if you want to go learn a programming language, take a couple months(its not hard, any idiot can do it).
I not only disagree with Moose2823 but I think there are way too many people who study computers rather than the older more rounded subjects these days. Everyone is on the computer all the time, everyday, and consider it the most important thing in their life. Its all they do all day every day.
It would be such an unbearable world if the only thing anybody ever studied was just engineering and computer science.