An Oklahoma High Schooler Changed the Rules of Organic Chemistry

We thought we knew everything about carbon. We were wrong.

Amid all the social, cultural, and political upheavals that shook up 2018, the scientific realm, bolstered by observable, objective evidence, was a bastion of stability. But even the ancient rules of science change once in a while, and when they do, it can be groundbreaking — just as it was in April, when a teen from Oklahoma overturned a well-established theory of chemistry.

Everyone learns in high school chemistry class that carbon, the essential molecule of life, can form up to four bonds with other atoms. Those four bonds allow carbon to form the compounds that make life livable, like carbon dioxide, natural gas, and even booze. But as Inverse reported this year, George Wang, a teenager attending the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, discovered that under very special circumstances, carbon can form not only four but seven bonds, as the video above explains.

This is #18 on Inverse‘s 25 Most WTF Science Stories of 2018.

Wang is listed as the first author of a paper outlining this discovery that was published in the Journal of Molecular Modeling in April. He co-wrote it with the help of University of Oklahoma chemist Bin Wang, Ph.D., and his chemistry professor Dr. A.K. Fazlur Rahman, who explained that this momentous discovery came about because Wang rose to a challenge posed to the class.

“I asked the students, is it possible that it can make more than six?” Rahman told Inverse. When Wang returned to him with evidence that carbon could make seven bonds, gathered over a summer of independent study spent tinkering with an atom modeling program on his computer, Rahman was stunned. The discovery, Wang and his co-authors wrote, can be applied to improve chemical synthesis and hydrogen storage, which could have huge implications for the future of fuel.

chemistry carbon seven bonds
Dr. Rahman and Wang, co-authors of the new paper.

Even one scientist who reviewed the paper before publication was shocked to learn that Wang was, at the time of writing, only a high school junior.

“I recall getting it, finding myself liking it, recommending it for publication,” University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor of chemistry Joel Liebman, Ph.D., told Inverse, “but never dreaming it was a high school student, never asking it, never challenging it.”

As 2018 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 stories that made us go WTF. Some are gross, some are amazing, and some are just, well, WTF. In our ranking from least to most WTF, this has been #18. Read the original article here.

Watch the full 25 WTF countdown in the video below.