Science TEDTalks

Like, want to see my nuclear fusion reactor? Taylor Wilson at TED2012

Posted by: Helen Walters

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Taylor Wilson is a 17-year old nuclear physicist. No, really. He charms the audience from the get-go, making the case that “you know, as a scientist, the glass is always 100% full, with water and air.” But he’s really here to make two cases: that nuclear fusion will be the energy of the future, and that kids can change the world. How does he know? “I built a fusion reactor when I was 14 years old.” Well then.

Winner of the Science Fair, Wilson built a radioactivity detector for hundreds of dollars he says exceeds the sensitivity of those used by homeland security (which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.) He also built a device to make medical isotopes–and he says, he’s learned how to make yellow cake in his garage lab, so he personally has the same nuclear capabilities as Iran. “Perhaps I shouldn’t confess that,” he adds, jovially. Most recently, he met President Obama, a thrill. “I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar in my garage, and I ended up meeting the President of the United States!” he concludes, as the crowd leaps to its feet in rapturous applause.

Comments (19)

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  • Homo Sapiens Technologicus commented on Apr 25 2012

    ..a genius ??? NUCLEAR ????
    Are you all oout of your mind ??
    Don’t you think over decades ???
    I just want you to flight to Mercury.. the Earth doesn’t need you !!!

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  • andrew wen commented on Mar 31 2012

    Genius!
    And by the way, ITER is expected to produce 10 times as much energy as it consumes. The record right now is producing 65% as much energy as it consumes, held by JET. So. for the skeptics, nuclear fusion IS a viable energy source and it better become one or else we’re going to run out.

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  • Carl Page commented on Mar 6 2012

    He is very clever and handy and made an extremely nice DIY project, building a Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor and coming up with novel applications for it. There is very little innovation in nuclear chemistry– people avoid things with a big potential impact. (And then there is the story of early experimenters who didn’t know radioactivity could be harmful.)

    A Fusor has no real chance of being an energy source- it consumes more than it puts out. Though some of the reaction products might prove useful in another system. But if you want to make a star in a jar, a bit of Fusion at home, the Fusor really works.

    Do not confuse this work with “Cold Fusion” or LENR. This is an example of hot fusion using physics that has been known for a long time. Interest in Ni+H for Neutron Synthesis reactions is increasing after 22 years of floundering around- about how long it takes for science to accept a new observation and start figuring out what it means.

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  • G Alexander commented on Mar 2 2012

    Maybe, maybe not.

  • G Alexander commented on Mar 2 2012

    Curb Your Enthusiasms — fusion has so far evaded the best efforts of DOE, Princeton University and other very competent science centers. Fusion requires powerful magnetic confinement and almost unimaginable temperatures — and a 14-y.o. did it in his garage? Wouldn’t want to discourage a budding scientist but extraordinary claims, as Carl Sagan often said, requires extraordinary evidence.

    • Jack Huang commented on Mar 5 2012

      Actually, controlled nuclear fusion itself has been successfully experimented on since the 1950s (Google “tokamak” if you’re skeptical). However, sustained nuclear fusion *with a stable, positive net energy output* has eluded everyone who’s tried it so far.

      Further, the kid didn’t achieve fusion in his garage. He built a fusion reactor in a university physics lab in collaboration with a couple of nuclear physicists.

      • Jonathan Pinchbeck commented on Jun 9 2012

        In actuality he built the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor completely by himself in his garage which he tested safely using noble gases, which merely ionizes the gas to point of illumination. It is becoming a more common home project now on Youtube actually. But at the time he did it it was less common.

        Then wanting to work his way to deuterium fusion he went out and found an adequate place to test, understanding the risks involved of neutron radiation. The amounts were minute, but nonetheless successful fusion reactions occurred. Like he said, it didn’t break even energy wise but for an inquisitive mind it was a noteworthy experiment.

        From this it pushed him to develop not one but two useful technologies for mankind; both to cost. Others may feel threatened by his intelligence, but in my mind he’s already an accomplished nuclear engineer. I hope he fares well. Cheers.

        • Jimmy Billsworth commented on Aug 19 2012

          So he saw something comprehensively described on a website and put it together? Wow!
          So impressive. Ever heard the expression “They stood on the shoulders of giants”? I’m guessing that it is appropriate in this case.

          And your comment about “useful technologies for mankind” is so dramatic. So you’re aware of the ramificatons at such a large scale how? I think it takes a while before such conclusions can be reached. And does the scientific community hold him in such high esteem?

          I like people that work hard so if he is studying, learning and coming up with new innovative ideas? More power to him. But I also don’t particularly like people that self promote.

  • Justin Cram commented on Mar 2 2012

    I’m looking forward to what the next 20 years is going to bring and even 2012 is going to be the good old turning point for humanity! the good stuff and nanotechnology with this we are almost set.

  • commented on Mar 1 2012

    Wow! This kid will change the world in some way i’m sure!