Scientists Back Kiera Wilmot by Tweeting About All the Stuff They've Blown Up

Categories: News

As the tale of Kiera Wilmot -- the Bartow, Florida student expelled and charged with two felonies over a science project gone wrong -- went viral yesterday, a wide movement to support the 16-year-old blossomed from blogs to radio shows to Change.org petitions. Best of all, though, has been a Twitter campaign by scientists and science fans with a simple premise: writing about the craziest stuff they've blown up over the years, all in the name of science.

The difference, of course, is that they were congratulated on their curiosity or slapped on the wrist, not hit with life-altering felonies.

See also:
- Florida School Responds to Criticism for Expelling Student Over Science Project: "There Are Consequences to Actions"
- Florida Teen Girl Charged With Felony After Science Experiment Goes Bad

Wilmot was booted from school and criminally charged last week after mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a plastic bottle on school grounds, despite the fact that no one was hurt and she told her principal she was conducting a "science fair experiment."

The details of the case have led to an outcry from science educators, particularly because Wilmot was apparently a good student with a good behavior record and because she's a young black woman -- a demographic severely underrepresented in the science world.

The campaign to support her may well have started with an eloquently furious blog from DNLee, a biologist who writes for Scientific American. She writes about the race aspects of Wilmot's case and then notes another important fact: Anyone with any scientific curiosity has had some experiments go wrong.

I can't name a single scientist or engineer, who hadn't blown up, ripped apart, disassembled something at home or otherwise cause a big ruckus at school all in the name of curiosity, myself included. Science is not a clean. It is very messy and it is riddled with mistakes and mishaps.

Andrew Thaler, a deep-sea biologist in North Carolina who writes as "Southern Fried Scientist," then challenged his Twitter followers to share tales of their own mishaps that went unpunished, with a #KieraWilmot tag.



What do you say, Miami? Ever blown anything up for science? Tell us about it in the comments or tweet @miaminewtimes with the tag #kierawilmot.

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104 comments
Bighoss
Bighoss

In my high school chemistry class, we actually had an experiment that involved production of CHLORINE GAS and a second one that involved production of BROMINE GAS, both potentially deadly gases.  We made these gases in generators that were built of glass flasks with glass tubing and rubber stoppers and in no case were any of us successful in assembling air-tight systems. The result was that some of these gases leaked out of the production apparatus at every one of the dozen or so tables in the lab, with resultant hacking, choking and coughing and much production of tears and burning eyes. How things have changed--and for the better  That was in the 1950s and would never be permitted under modern rules.

In the same class we also learned how to start fires with the simple combination of glycerine and potassium permanganate, two easily obtainable chemicals.  My friends and I several times duplicated that process in after-school hours.

Not to be outdone by the high-school crowd, I and some of my colleagues in a college organic chemistry class determined that it would be a simple matter to whip up a small supply of tear gas in the laboratory one late afternoon in the absence of any supervision.  We were successful, but the stuff ran us out of the lab.

I have to wonder how many of those "Drano bombs" will be made and exploded by kids who read about Miss Wilmot's sad case but who otherwise would never have learned how to do this "fun thing."

School-employee
School-employee

I am impressed, Tarabella, with your consistent patience and decent logic despite a flood of emotional, less well-founded support for the young lady. Incidentally, this was no sort of 'science' experiment. It was an uncontrolled, unpredictable event. Just what combination of aluminum and drano could create a genuinely violent reaction? She certainly didn't know. She acted without reasonable concern for her own safety or that of accidental passersby. I teach at a large secondary school and am aware of the casual dismissal of responsibility occasionally demonstrated by students. I love them all but do not condone their choices at times.

drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

No one wants to believe how fucked up things have become. Everyone loves to think that things are just a-okay. And what makes it worse, is no one believes they have any faults. People today think they can do no wrong.

nina-dsd
nina-dsd

ooops. Accidentally taught my 6 yr old daughter how to start a fire with a magnifying glass last year.  When I realized the potential for damage, I told her she could only do this with mom around.  Science is fun, what can I say?

nina-dsd
nina-dsd

ooops. Accidentally taught my 6 yr old daughter how to start a fire with a magnifying glass last year.  When I realized the potential for damage, I told her she could only do this with mom around.  Science is fun, what can I say?

xtimwallacex
xtimwallacex

When my brother and I were pre-teens (1960), we walked through our neighborhood with a rifle and ammunition. We went across the bridge and into the "woods" were Monsignor Pace High School is today, and shot target practice. We used one of the abandoned navy ammunition bunkers as a backstop, and shot cans as the targets. No one blinked an eye.

sglowmark
sglowmark

In my chemistry class in High School, every week we had "Fire Friday" where our teacher blew something up in class or made fire somehow. (Like potassium in water, or lighting magnesium on fire with a blowtorch, and many other small explosions like what this girl did). I even made a form of thermite for a science project. My teacher helped me carry it outside to the courtyard and we set it on fire. It burned with purple smoke and melted/burned through the clay pot and scorched the cement below. It even blew up a little and sent little chunks flying and burning. It was cool, and my teacher was impressed. That school in the article is acting like mindless idiots who have no common sense between a chemistry reaction and a bomb. Bunch of moron douche bags running that school.

StephenDK
StephenDK

I accidently took out power in half the school, when somehow connecting a 12V print-card drill to an electric outlet - Punishment: Was told not to do it again.

My brother did an experiment with fracking crude oil... accidently blew it up (oil EVERYWHERE) - Punishment: To clean it up himself.

Science teacher accidently blew up a glass container with the class gathered around it in a steam pressure experiment gone wrong (luckily no one got hurt) - Punishment: Written letter of apology.

Making a bottle say "pop" and make smoke? - FITTING punishment: Told to let a teacher know first, next time. NOT criminal charges and expulsion!

34einnor
34einnor

Schools are passing off their responsibility of student discipline to the police and justice system.Events that should simply be mistakes a part of growing up are now life ruining felonies.This poor girl will not be eligible for military or many government positions because of a botched science experiment.Those who believe "expunged" records are a reality need to read up on the law.The schools policy needs to be completely revamped and we can't keep letting them hide behind policy like their hands are tied.They are not tied.They did not have to ruin this child's life but in order to teach all children to conform and obey without question she will suffer the unfair consequences of growing up in a police state.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@Bighoss Glad you had a chance to wax nostalgic about your high school and college science days. However, this is about a school safety issue--not a science experiment. 

starlord95
starlord95

@School-employee Right, I get it - it was an experiment conducted without regard for the danger involved.

Fair enough, the school doesn't (and isn't required to) condone unsafe experiments in chemisty. So suspend her for a week, or - better - require her to research and write a paper on proper safety with chemical experiments. That way, she's punished and actually LEARNS something, rather than being sent to fucking PRISON.

Seriously, sending a 16-year-old to prison for an experiment involving bleach and bits of aluminium - especially when she has a prior history of outstanding behaviour - is a clear indication of the school-to-prison pipeline that the Right so adores.

Bighoss
Bighoss

@xtimwallacex 

When I was in elementary school , every boy who wanted to carried a pocket knife, which was permitted.  It was a common thing for a boy to ask permission to go to the waste paper basket near the classroom door and sharpen a pencil, using his knife.  It was often the case in the later grades that the pencil being sharpened was not the male student's but belonged to his sweetie pie (or at least his sweetie pie for that week, seeing how the girl friends/boy friends thing was  a pre-adolescent matrix of moving targets at that age). Today, as we all know,  flashing a pocket knife at school will get you suspended or expelled.

There WERE some GOOD things about those "good old days." No kid in my school would have had the faintest inclination to use his knife to do bodily harm to another.

isaac49
isaac49

@xtimwallacex Well, you were just exercising your rights under the 2nd amendment. Which covers rifles, but not bleach.

Bighoss
Bighoss

A post above ("In my chemistry class...." ) somehow came out as a post by sglowmark, but it is my post.  Not sure I understand the functional dynamics of this system--Bighoss

Bighoss
Bighoss

@sglowmark 

My high school teacher had a demonstration each year wherein he tossed a chunk of elemental sodium in to a bucket of water to produce an impressive explosion in the outdoor courtyard adjoining the science classroom.  It was one of the highlights of that class year.  The teacher was the very best teacher I ever had from first grade through grad school. He had a closet full of  apparatus of all kinds he had obtained from God only knows where and put all of it to good use in graphically demonstrating  principles of chemistry and physics. I believe that if he had known about "Drano bombs," he probably would have added them to his repertoire.  Long live my favorite teacher, J.T.N. of Brentwood, Tennessee (who is still living and doing well)!

tarabela
tarabela

@sglowmark 

 "in my chemistry class"

"our teacher blew something up in class"

"My teacher helped me carry it outside"

"it was cool and my teacher was impressed"

If you cannot understand how your situation was completely different from this situation where a girl took it upon herself, not in a classroom, not with a teacher's supervision (or parent for that matter), to conduct a "science experiment," then YOU are a "mindless idiot who ha[s] no common sense"

tarabela
tarabela

@34einnor She has not been convicted. What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?  Sounds like you've already proven her guilty without a trial.  Who knows which way the prosecutor will choose to go? Maybe the charges will scare her straight.  Maybe not. Don't make assumptions. 

Bighoss
Bighoss

@lulurushmore @Bighoss 

In case you did not notice,by far the greater part of my post described some things---some potentially dangerous things--that occurred in science CLASSES back in my time in high school and college.  But if you feel a compulsion to place sideboards on forum content, go ahead if it serves your Nanny complex. I make no commitment, however, to meet your crabbed and narrow criteria.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@Bighoss @sglowmark I'm glad you enjoyed your high school science class. However, the Kiera Wilmot situation is not related in any way to a science class or a science fair.

joeh
joeh

@tarabela @sglowmark 

oh yeah your right. she is a felon. you just managed to convince me, me, who was so sure of her innocence. but now, i see it clearly, so clearly. she is, definetely, a felon.

balthcat
balthcat

Only one of those is relevant, as this scenario does not involve them being used to attack people or property,.  

borche2314
borche2314

@tarabela @34einnor The discussion was about whether the schools were passing responsibility off onto the justice system. Way to miss the point, dipshit.

tarabela
tarabela

*I* am not saying what she did is a crime. It IS a crime. And ask any 15-18 year old high school student if this would be acceptable at their school (NOT in the classroom with a teacher, just out between buildings) and I can guarantee they will say no. Kids know the rules, and the reasons for them, apparently better than adults.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@jabari No, school grounds are not an acceptable place for random, unsupervised "experiments." This was not a case of academic curiosity...just a girl with potentially harmful materials on a school campus. 

jabari
jabari

@ tarabela You have a problem with people defending her as a scientist? Part of Chemistry is understanding that things may blow up. Part of being a kid is being curious. As a student, I can't tell you how many times my classmates and I have read something thought "hmm,,,that can't be right. I'll try it my self." If being a curious kid is a big mistake and a crime, we need to evaluate our society. She did not intentionally build a bomb and bring it to school she simply mixed some household agents to see the reaction, she didn't buy plutonium and plan to blow up the school. Also, since science experiments happen or should happen at school all the time, how can you argue that she should have know what she was doing is a crime and  "unacceptable on school grounds? Isn't that what school is for? There is no such thing as the perfect student. We have all brought thing, worn things and done things at school that are for lack of better terms stupid. Did we get the book of justice thrown at us.. NO!  Either the school dealt with it or called our parents, you got detention or a few days of suspension. I had a lab partner in Chemistry 2 my sophomore year of college that mixed HCL and ethanol and placed on a Bronson burner then walked away to see if it would blow up. He shattered a beaker and ruined a burner and he wasn't arrested. He didn't even have to pay for the items he ruined. He failed that lab activity and my chem professor cracked jokes about it for the rest of the semester.  I think it is sad that we live in country so dominated by fear that we inhibit the academic curiosity of a good students. To say what she did is a crime is like making a rule that it's illegal to spill things in on the floor and arresting a kid for a wasting soda because the top wasn't screwed on tight.  The school and the justice system has blown this way out of proportion (I don't even know if you can classify a cap flying off a bottle and a poof of smoke as an explosion anyway).  I hate that I have lived to see the day where curiosity is inappropriate on school grounds. I guess it's just a glimpse of what's wrong with America's schools and why we're falling in the education ranks.

tarabela
tarabela

Well, she isn't completely innocent. I have a problem with comments about what a bright young scientist she is and how the principal and prosecutor are trying to ruin her life. She made a mistake. Unfortunately for her it was a big mistake and a crime. When people commit crimes, they have to pay the consequences. She is innocent until proven guilty in the judicial system and, luckily, I have recently found out that she has not been charged as an adult - charges are pending during investigation. Regardless, the facts show that she was doing something that was a felony - regardless of what she said her intent was - and I absolutely believe that she should have known this act was unacceptable on school grounds. I argued FOR her today in a class discussion with high schoolers and not one of them defended her. They ALL said she was in the wrong and deserved her punishment because they all KNOW her act was unacceptable.

Susthechog
Susthechog

@tarabela @joeh @sglowmark It sure as hell seems like you're trying to argue in favor of her guilt.  Every time I see you post on this article, you're either bringing arguments to the table that support her incarceration or you're exaggerating the danger that her experimenting posed to other people. Everyone else is too polite to say what we're all thinking, except me: all evidence here points to you having got a bone to pick with this poor kid, and I want you to stow the BS and tell us what it is.

dlmetcalf
dlmetcalf

@lulurushmore You're overreacting.  They're really not  particularly dangerous reactants.  You use aluminium foil to wrap your turkey.  You wouldn't want to spill hydroxide on yourself, but that's about it.  You certainly can't class these two as a binary explosive, or anything of the sort.  I used to perform this chemical reaction safely in Grade 3.  It's not luck.  It's quantities, stoichiometry and thermodynamics.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@joeh "Relatively harmless reactants"...try reading up on this situation some more. Luckily, in this instance, the explosion was extremely small. It could have dangerous. 

tarabela
tarabela

@joeh @sglowmark 

She's been charged, not convicted.  She is not a felon until convicted.  I'm not supporting a verdict of guilty.  I don't even think she should be charged as an adult.  Possibly as a juvenile. But that was not up for discussion on this thread. @sglowmark's comment was directed at the school.  My comment was directed at that comment.  The criminal charges were not even mentioned. At this point, I cannot tell if you are attempting sarcasm or are serious.

joeh
joeh

@tarabela @joeh @sglowmark if you intervene in this conversation, you have an opinion about its subject matter (a girl has been charged as a felon for mixing relatively harmless reactants in school premises), and if you speak against someone who is defending her innocence, even if you are nitpicking on her arguments, you are supporting the veredict of gilty. of felony, of course. she is a felon, as you seem to support. and as i said, your arguments in support of your cause in this discussion, have convinced me. (obviously, if i read this thread, is to form an opinion about the subject matter, ie the charges).

tarabela
tarabela

@joeh @sglowmark  

Where did I say she was a felon?  

Sorry about your reading comprehension skills, bro.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@vvalkyri @tarabela So what if "not everybody has access to large spaces that one can reasonably expect to stay empty"? That does not mean it's okay to play with explosive materials on school grounds without permission or supervision. 

balthcat
balthcat

@tarabela The topic I addressed here was very narrow.  I didn't touch on the statute since I don't know the wording.  I don't deny that the statute may cover the final concoction.  I  am merely saying that most of your evidence that they're considered dangerous involves cases where people would come across them unexpectedly.  In this particular thread, I'm only questioning the value of your multitude of links.  If you'd used 5 like the one where the kids were arrested for doing it on their own, you'd have been stellar, and I'd have said nothing (here).

tarabela
tarabela

And this girl did not have active malice, why? Because she said so? She didn't intend to cause at the very least smoke on a school campus? What did she think would be the reaction to smoke? Either she's a brilliant scientist with a keen intellect, in which case she should have realized the potential for getting in trouble (smoke even without a "pop" would have led to someone coming over to investigate a possible fire), or she's just a teenager who executed a poorly thought out prank.

The point of my posting those articles, once again (and this is beginning to get tedious) was to point out that the police DO consider these devices dangerous. Whether left in someone's yard or mailbox or thrown at someone's face -- it doesn't really matter. They have the potential the be harmful. So she didn't throw it at anyone or put it in a mailbox. She doesn't have to to meet the criminal statutes. If she HAD done so, that would have in fact, upped her charge to a SECOND degree felony, instead of third. You seem intelligent so I don't know why you are willfully ignoring basic facts - like the definition of the statute.

balthcat
balthcat

@tarabela No, like the other two comments, my argument would be that they only one of the articles you linked did not involve active malice.  

When you argue with someone, try arguing with them, not with all the other people present, using them as a proxy.  They might not appreciate it.

tarabela
tarabela

Had the top been screwed on more tightly, it could have caused property damage. It's the same exact devise. I know, I know - your argument will be "but it DIDN'T" - so if someone brings a gun to school and shoots in the air we should say, "oh, he didn't intend to hurt anyone, he didn't point it at anyone, and look! it didn't even cause any same!" Or if a kid is smoking weed in the school bathroom we should say, "he wasn't hurting anyone but himself, he was in the bathroom and not around other students." It's a crime. Period. And it's a safety issue. You seem to err on the side of, "Nothing happened, lets forget it," but I prefer the side of, "Nothing happened THIS TIME. Lets make sure it doesn't happen again." Nobody said she couldn't have done this "experiment" on her own private property - she chose to bring it to public, governmental property.

balthcat
balthcat

@tarabela Again, except for the one article above, the warnings were about people leaving them around like bombs to damage property or for other people to find.  So no, they are not all warnings about what she is doing, even if she could have created something similar.  

scotdance1
scotdance1

@vvalkyri SROs are more or less ubiquitous at the high school level, less so at the middle and elementary school levels.  Also...the space between the caf/gazebo isn't that large, and at 7 am before school could not be reasonably expected to stay empty.  That's usually a fairly well trafficked area before school begins, between classes, during lunch, etc.  On a weekend or well after school when the campus was clear, maybe that would work, but not during a time when students were on campus.

tarabela
tarabela

The point was that what she did is the same as what the police are warning about in all these articles - and it is a felony to make or possess - 3rd degree - If you intend to hurt someone with it, the charge increases. But with NO INTENT to hurt people or property it is STILL a 3rd degree felony. I'm not debating whether it SHOULD be a felony or not. It is. So statements like "this is a fun science experiment" and "this is not a felony" are flat out incorrect. Now SHOULD it be a felony? Honestly, that's not even worth getting worked up about because the law is not going to change absent a state Supreme Court case or a legislator making it his pet project so it's a futile exercise at this point to get angry about the law. And she has TWO felony charges because she chose to bring this to school. I suspect if she had done this at home in her backyard as a "science experiment" no one would have known about it and she would have gotten away with it. But she chose to bring it to a public place where she knew there was an SRO nearby. SROs are very present on all campuses. It's not something she would likely have forgotten.

lulurushmore
lulurushmore

@balthcat Apparently you understand neither the importance of order and precaution on school property nor the concept of expulsion. The student has many options through the school district to continue her education despite the poor choice she made. She is currently attending a different school in the same county. 

scotdance1
scotdance1

@dlmetcalf Unless it involves unpredictable chemical reactions carried out without permisison on school campus, in which case, yes, it is.

tarabela
tarabela

There are a couple of offenses that the school board has decided do not warrant anything except immediate expulsion. Those offenses are directly related to keeping students safe. These type of offenses don't rely on past behaviors because they are so inherently dangerous on their own that once is enough to cause great harm. Now, she is permitted to appeal her expulsion. There are alternative schools in the area as well as virtual school. They are not "abdicating" their responsibility. They are keeping their other thousands of students safe. I know we live in an individualist society in America, but schools are one place where the safety of the community is more important than one student's right to conduct an unauthorized science experiment. She could have done it at home, but she didn't. She and her parents signed the Code of Conduct, agreeing to abide by the school district's rules. If she did not want to abide by those rules, she did not have to attend that school. Parents are allowed to homeschool or send a child to a private school. There are rules at public schools that must be followed to protect students and the school from possible liability for injuries. Additionally, once again, there was a POLICE OFFICER on campus (technically a Sheriff's deputy who called the city police because the school is in their jurisdiction) The school did not abdicate - there was already law enforcement there. When a student commits a crime on campus, they know the SRO will be involved. This is not a new concept for them. Plus, if you noticed, they did not arrest her until after they found out she lied about it being a science project. Once the teacher said it was not an assignment and he/she knew nothing about it, they then took her into custody. That makes me think that had this indeed been a science project, as everyone on this website is screaming about, then she wouldn't have received such a harsh punishment.

balthcat
balthcat

@tarabela You've missed the point completely, still.  By choosing to expel a student who is by no estimation incorrigible or unredeemable, they are abdicating their responsibility COMPLETELY.  Expulsion is not discipline, it's giving up.  Furthermore, they involved the police in the first place.

tarabela
tarabela

@borche2314 @34einnor 

Public schools are run by the government.  The police are an extension of the government.  All schools have an SRO (School Resource Officer) who works for law enforcement and is assigned a school location.  No one passed the responsibility off to the police.  She was dealt with by the school - she was expelled.  The police make their own decision as to whether they have the requisite proof to arrest.  The prosecutor makes her own decision as to whether or not to prosecute (press charges).  I didn't answer that point because it was ridiculous.  Anyone who is not a moron would know that.

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