Science or Terrorism?

Back to July 2013 Ed Reporter

Science or Terrorism?

In April, a Polk County, Florida high school student, whose science experiment caused a pop bottle to explode, was expelled from school, arrested, and faced charges of “felony possession of a weapon and making or discharging a destructive device.”

While preparing for the science fair, Kiera Wilmot, 16, combined toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a plastic bottle at an outside location on campus before school. The sound of the “explosion” was described as “like a firecracker,” and the only damage done was that the bottle lid came off and there was a puff of smoke. No one was injured.

Authorities apparently could not discern the difference between a budding scientist and a budding terrorist. Kiera was taken away in handcuffs and she could have faced 20 years in jail. Resolution came via an “offer of diversion of prosecution.” Although the document signed by Kiera and prosecutors remains sealed, such agreements usually involve probation and community service. (Orlando Sentinel, 5-15-13)

After a ten-day suspension, the school district forced Kiera to attend an alternative school in order to graduate next year. The incident led to some tense times for the student, who plays cello and wants to study robotics in college. She said she feared fellow students would think she was a terrorist. (Orlando Sentinel, 05-14-13)

Numerous scientists and scientific journals protested the school’s treatment of Kiera, as they “[rallied] behind her inquisitiveness.” Many scientists told of their own experiments gone awry and how they were shaped by the thrill of adventurous science. (Scientific American, 5-03-13)