On Sunday, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed built a homemade clock. It wasn't especially difficult for him, and the result wasn't polished — it looked like a mess of wires and circuitry. He was still adjusting to life as a high schooler, and he wanted to bring in something cool to show his teachers.
Mohamed eagerly showed several teachers the clock and explained what it was, but he didn't get the congratulations he was expecting. Instead, he left school in handcuffs.
Young Mohamed's story has drawn accusations of racism and Islamophobia, and many — scientists, technologists and members of the general public alike — are expressing shock and outrage. But as with any incident of discrimination, especially in science, the truth is that we aren't really shocked. And that's the worst part.
The ordeal reminds many of what a young woman named Kiera Wilmot endured in 2013: Wilmot, also a budding scientist, was accused of lighting a chemical fire when one of her experiments went awry. By the time criminal charges were dropped, she had already been expelled from her school.
But in a silver lining, Wilmot was offered a trip to space camp by a NASA veteran.
Many are hoping that Mohamed can have a similar outcome, especially since he's made a heartbreaking vow never to bring an experiment to school again.
Already, Mohamed has NASA scientists offering up visits to their labs:
Anil Dash, the founder of Makerbase, is collecting ideas for how to help Mohamed — and other kids like him — in a Google survey.
Others are simply going out of their way to show support:
(I mean, seriously — do you? I was a serious little nerdling, and I never learned how to build a clock.)
And just in case you think this would have happened to any kid who brought a wire-filled invention to his school, well, the tinkerers of Twitter are here to prove you wrong:
Kids who take pride in their nerdy work should be cherished and nurtured, not cuffed and interrogated. We need to do better.
For more science news, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here.