Kiera Wilmot was a typical 16-year-old honor student at Bartow Senior High School, in Bartow, Florida. She's never been in trouble. She has a reputation for being nice to everyone, getting straight As, and loving science.
But then a science experiment Wilmot conducted on school grounds went slightly wrong. At 7 a.m. on Monday April 30, Wilmot and a yet-to-be-named friend mixed aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a small water bottle. After about 30 seconds, the reaction created pressure inside the bottle, blowing the cap off with a pop that according to witnesses sounded like firecrackers going off. (Instructions to make this explosion, called a "works bomb," are freely available online. The aluminum in the foil reacts with sodium hydroxide in the cleaner. The reaction produces hydrogen gas, which quickly builds the pressure inside the closed bottle until the plastic can't take it any more and explodes outwards.) The reaction created a small amount of smoke. Her friend walked away, and the Assistant Principal Dan Durham walked over. No one was hurt by the "explosion," but later that day Wilmot was handcuffed, arrested, and expelled from school. According to the police report, she has been charged with two felonies: "possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds" and "discharging a destructive device." A call to the Polk County Attorney's office yielded no additional information. Because the case is still being investigated, they won't comment on it or even tell us the charges being brought against Wilmot. Wilmot was also expelled for violating the school's conduct code, which requires immediate expulsion for any "student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device ... while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity... unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor." The school told Riptide blog that Wilmot can challenge her expulsion. There has been no comment from the Wilmot family. When I called the phone number of a Marie Wilmot, who lives at the address reported as the Wilmot home by The Ledger, there was no answer and the voice mailbox was full. Reporters that have approached the Wilmot home have been told by the family that they have no comment. The aluminum foil and drain cleaner reaction is a go-to science experiment. The problem seems to be that she wasn't doing the experiment under controlled safety conditions, as in class or with her teachers. In the police report, Wilmot claimed it was in preparation for the science fair, but supposedly the science teachers said there was no upcoming science fair, according to ABC Action News. And the experiment was also done on school grounds (it was outdoors). If Wilmot had performed the reaction in her own backyard, there would never have been an issue. Sadly, The Ledger reports that Wilmot lives in an apartment, so she probably didn't have access to any private outdoor areas. Scientists around the world are showing support for the high schooler by tweeting about the explosions, fires, and general disruption they've caused as kids (and adults in some cases). There's also a petition to get the police to drop the charges.