Thursday, May 2, 2013

Science project, my ass

This is video footage of bottle bombs, followed by an x-ray of what happens when one goes off in your hand.

The kind of explosive process in these bottle bombs is thermite; a web site on safety and aluminum online from Purdue University notes this about it:
Thermite Reactions
Aluminum readily extracts oxygen from other metal oxides to form aluminum oxide with the simultaneous release of large amounts of heat (enough heat to melt the products of the reaction). For example, the reaction of aluminum with ferric oxide to produce liquid aluminum oxide and liquid iron produces temperatures approaching 3000°C (5400°F). This reaction, referred to as the "thermite reaction," has been used to weld large masses of iron and steel; when enclosed in a metal cylinder and ignited by a ribbon of magnesium has been used in incendiary bombs; and, with ammonium perchlorate added as an oxidizer, has provided the thrust for the space shuttle booster rockets.
I read an oddly eclectic, even eccentric assortment of material, and always have.

I first read about aluminum foil being used for making improvised explosives back in the 1970s/ early 80's; it had been around a long time before I came across it.

Rarely do I find merit in the claims of conservatives about 'playing the race card'.  Most of the accusations of racism are well deserved.

This one was not.  The Huff Po recently posted an opinion piece by Jesse Lava, "Would a White Girl Be Prosecuted for a Botched Science Experiment?", where he opines that there is racism behind the prosecution of a black honor student in Florida for making an improvised explosive device.  Yes, that's right - an IED.

This was not a legitimate 'science project', in that it had absolutely NOTHING whatsoever to do with her science class, according to her teacher, nor was this an 'experiment' that had the usual controls and measurements documenting every stage and evaluating the outcome.  This young woman snuck off to a wooden bridge over a creek some distance from the main school buildings and away from adult supervision, to try exploding a bottle bomb, using a water bottle, aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner.

There are plenty of these dangerous devices made by teens on the internet; youtube has dozens of them, and there are plenty of web sites providing directions on how to do them.  If you go to responsible web sites, you can also find out how genuinely dangerous these are, and if you check out news sources, you can find out how frequently these exercises in dangerous stupidity lead to arrests, regardless of gender or race / ethnicity.  Either plastic OR glass bottles can be used; the following excerpt from one such website refers to glass containers:
The resulting explosion, which can be quite powerful, also creates shrapnel from the pieces of glass which are forcibly thrown through the air. The liquid which is also expelled during the explosion is highly caustic and super heated. Injuries which can occur if exposed to an exploding bottle bomb include severe lacerations with embedded shrapnel, amputations, blindness,and chemical burns.

As with all bombs, bottle bombs are illegal, especially when used to injure someone or cause property damage. Some jurisdictions consider bottle bombs to be incendiary devices due to the caustic properties of the bombs ingredients. In one case in Utah, a man was charged with six different felonies related to the manufacture and detonation of bottle bombs, and in Michigan, a 15 year old student was also arrested in conjunction with the manufacture and detonation of a bottle bomb. Bottle bombs have caused numerous injuries and costly property damage, even to cement surfaces. In one case, over $10,000 in damage to a driveway was caused by the detonation of a bottle bomb. 
Bottle bombs have been found in mail boxes, gardens, gutters, on lawns, sidewalks and driveways. If you find a bottle, either glass or plastic, which appears to contain a frothy substance and possible pieces of foil, do not attempt to move it or pick it up. The chemical reaction needed to cause an explosion can occur in less than a minute. Notify your local law enforcement agency and tell them you suspect you may have found a bottle bomb. They will have the proper equipment and training to dispose of it.
And roughly around the same time period as the Florida girl was getting arrested and thrown out of school, a bunch of boys were reported in similar trouble in the Baltimore Sun:

Bel Air teens charged with setting off 'soda bottle bombs' at Harford Day School

Three Bel Air teenagers have been charged with setting off "soda bottle bombs" on the property of Harford Day School in Bel Air over the weekend.
No injuries or property damage was reported from the incident, which occurred at about 5 p.m. Saturday, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office.
Deputy State Fire Marshals charged two 13-year-old boys and one 12-year-old boy with making and detonating six of the devices on the school's campus in the 700 block of Moores Mill Road.

All the boys confessed to taking part in the incident and said they had learned of the devices on the Internet, according to a press release from the State Fire Marshal's Office.
The boys were charged with six counts of manufacture, possession and use of a destructive device and six counts of reckless endangerment. They were released to the custody of their parents.
The case has been referred to the Harford County Department of Juvenile Services, the release said.
Soda bottle bombs are considered improvised explosive devices and carry a penalty of up to 25 years in jail as well as $250,000 per device.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch noted the bombs contain "the works," namely, "100 percent toilet-bowl cleaner" that can cause serious harm.
"The construction of these devices is often misrepresented as fun. However, the serious and potential destructive nature of these devices can cause: loss of vision, respiratory distress, loss of use of extremities and possibly death," State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard said in the release.
Fun. Mischief. Kicks. Maybe a little mayhem or vandalism. 

But it is not engaging in a science project.  Shame on the Huff Po writer for failing to do ALL of the necessary research.  While it may not have been his intent to make an unjustified accusation of racism, he should have done his homework before accepting so blindly and trustingly the claim that this was a science project.  I have to wonder if he remembers anything he was taught in school about what defines science as science.  This is no more science than it is valid to claim this is house keeping just because toilet cleaner or aluminum foil was involved.


  1. Ok found this. I'm still wanting us to be able to differentiate somehow between hurtful and dumb.

    1. Absolutely.

      But isn't that something that takes place in court, like fining you more for going faster above the speed limit, versus less if you're only some over the speed limit? And taking into consideration time of day, road conditions, weather conditions, and traffic?

      If this girl, at 15, continues to be a good student, to get good test scores, to learn from this, to make some amends for this - like doing PSAs as part of community service - then she can turn that experience around to use for something to write about on a college application where they ask those damned questions about experiences that change your life. And if she has good test scores and/or good grades, it won't prevent her going forward either socially or educationally.

      What concerns me about this is that she has compounded her mistake in thinking by doing this -- and then lying in claiming it was some kind of science project, instead of coming clean, apologizing, and dealing with the consequences.

  2. Maybe the Huffpo guy just wanted discussion. Racism always makes me think.

    1. I would hope so, but then if that was the discussion he wanted to have, he should have been looking at this same conduct between white and minority students, and as well by gender, since more males do this than females. There are plenty of examples of it, ranging from students younger to mid to late teens and early twenty-somethings. It is an all too frequent event, as are some other explosives.

      It just doesn't sound like he ever bothered to ask the all-important question that should begin every discussion - "Is this true?", and then he went on to unfairly categorize the actions of the prosecutor and school administration.

      I'm wondering not only why he didn't say to himself....."science project? what the? good students don't get kicked out of school for science projects..." Maybe in a red state you do if it's on global warming or evolution, but not blowing up stuff.

      There were a lot of red flags on the field when he started; he ignored every one of them in what he wrote. That suggests to me sloppy thinking, and poor writing, not a healthy and INFORMED discussion on racism.

  3. hey my comments aren't being posted. Maybe they'll show later?

    See, there's the idea that every kid knows about this kind of thing and that is probably wrong. We cannot assume every kid has watched or heard about the youtube videos about building things. OR have they? Is that so, it is trending and almost all kids have heard of this kind of building things? If it is truly that well known then we need to raise awareness.

    Anyway, I think it would have been fair to tell that kid she was suspended (it happened on school grounds apparently) and also tell her she will now need to help us raise awareness about the situation (building hurtful things as a result of being dumb and watching some kind of video or reading about it someplace). I'd set out objectives, make her use the words "they are still determining how to deal with this event. The school may expel me. The police have charged me with..." And then have her create a program or write a speech for a program. And then I'd put that on the school calendar and invite everyone. Shelly nailed it in my Facebook post. lack of critical thinking skills. Poor girl.

    1. I think there is still plenty of opportunity to do this - to aim for a positive consequence; but if the school isn't firm on this, I can see, given the prevalence of it, and given the risk involved, that they need a proportionate penalty. Perhaps if she completes her consequences from court, they could consider letting her back into school after a significant period - like a year from next fall. We are after all, very near the end of this year already.