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Andrew Zimmerman Jones

This Kid Built a Nuclear Fusion Reactor

By March 23, 2012

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The problem with inspiring stories of young people who accomplish great things is that the stories often make one realize how much of their own youth was wasted. That happened to me this morning, when I watched a new video of a TED talk by 17-year-old Taylor Wilson ... a boy who, at age 14, built his own nuclear fusion reactor in his garage!

Taylor Wilson
Source: TED (used under fair use)

As Wilson explains it, his ambitious project started when he decided at age 10 that he wanted to create his own star. Nuclear fusion is the process that fuels the stars. Within a star, the mass of all the stellar gas creates enough gravitational force to collide together atoms so that the nuclei fuse together. This is the process of stellar nucleosynthesis and generates all of the heat and light that comes from stars.

As impressive as this sounds, Wilson hasn't single-handedly solved America's energy crisis. His nuclear fusion reactor accelerates beams of the element Deuterium so that it collides together. This acceleration takes energy and, unfortunately, it takes more energy than what is generated by the fusion process.

Still, I think that is overall a fairly minor failure, given that the professionals are running into the exact same problems in designing a nuclear fusion reactor that generates more energy than it takes. But Wilson hasn't let that slow him down, as he's continued inventing and has even designed equipment for the Department of Homeland Security.

Whether you're looking for a dose of inspiration or humility, watching the Taylor Wilson video will fit the bill.

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March 27, 2012 at 8:54 am
(1) Hal Luebbert says:

Gee, I’ll bet that all the people who sneered when I said this could be done – at North Iowa Area Community College, 1974 – and wrote a paper explaining how are eating crow now. That’s if any of them ever in their lives read anything about physics.

June 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm
(2) physicist says:

Sorry, this kid amassed a pile of crap and fooled a lot of journalists who don’t know physics he created a fusion reactor. We have NEVER created a fusion reactor after 40 years of research in it. He talks a good talk, maybe he can run for office some day.

June 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm
(3) physics says:

Actually, we have built fusion devices frequently over the years. What you mean, I think, is that we have never built a fusion reactor that produces more energy than has to be pumped into the machine to get (and keep) the fusion going. This is certainly true, and this kid’s device is no different. It takes more power than it produces. As I recall, he says this clearly in his video. Still a rather impressive achievement, though.

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