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"I have an exceedingly large collection of Historically-minded Radioactive Items..."
February 21, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

The Boy who Played with Fusion. At age four, [Taylor Wilson] donned a fluorescent orange vest and hard hat and stood in front of the house, directing traffic. For his fifth birthday, he said, he wanted a crane. But when his parents brought him to a toy store, the boy saw it as an act of provocation. “No,” he yelled, stomping his foot. “I want a real one.”

“Those were some tough times,” Taylor tells me one day, as he uses his mom’s gardening trowel to mix up a batch of yellowcake (the partially processed uranium that’s the stuff of WMD infamy) in a five-gallon bucket. “But as bad as it was with Grandma dying and all, that urine sure was something.” As Taylor stirred the toxic urine sample, holding the clicking Geiger counter over it, inspiration took hold. He peered into the swirling yellow center, and the answer shone up at him, bright as the sun.
posted by obscurator (18 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hahn, determined to achieve something extraordinary but discouraged by the adults in his life, pressed on without guidance or oversight—and with nearly catastrophic results.

They bring up David Hahn quite and I think they play down how tragically things ended up for him. I'm glad that Taylor's story is getting exposure, at least for the fact that it shows parents, teachers and so on that if a brilliant kid is driven toward Dangerous Science, the best thing to do is support them as best you can.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My son wants a skid-steer loader, and he is three. I was going to bring him to the one down the street behind a paint store and tell him I bought it for him for shits and giggles, but I'm not going to be able to afford uranium in ten years.
posted by kpht at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]



So Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory is not a fictional character, but a composite of kids like this. Scary.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


but I'm not going to be able to afford uranium in ten years.

Apparently it's free if you can find yourself some left over bomb fragments in the desert.

I'm less struck by the kids genius (which is astounding) than I am the parents who let him grow and test and experiment. It seems so rare to have the perfect combination of someone of genius actually have people who will encourage them. Way to be awesome.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:09 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


According to this article, 10 people had made fusion reactors by the time Taylor was 12 ("At that point, only 10 individuals had managed to build working fusion reactors."). Then, when he 14, it was 32 ("Shortly after his 14th birthday...Taylor became the 32nd individual on the planet to achieve a nuclear-fusion reaction.") But the article equates all fusion reactors to Farnsworth–Hirsch-type fusors ("he wanted to build a fusion reactor, also called a fusor"), and many types of fusion experiments have been performed on many configurations. So where are these numbers coming from?
posted by Mapes at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a rad story!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh, Greg Nog...

/golf clap
posted by hincandenza at 9:25 AM on February 21, 2012


His parents are positively glowing with pride.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apparently it's free if you can find yourself some left over bomb fragments in the desert.

One of my favorite issues of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen used a bunch of scouts collecting uranium in the desert as a completely off-hand (self-link alert) framing device.
posted by griphus at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2012


What happened next was not the firecracker’s bang
everyone expected, but a thunderous blast that brought panicked neighbors running from their houses. Looking up, they watched as a small mushroom cloud rose, unsettlingly, over the Wilsons’ yard.


I like this kid already.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can't wait to see what this kid does as an adult - he looks like a potential world changer. Hopefully his parents aren't too radiant.
posted by leslies at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is something in his eyes that is made of dream
posted by elpapacito at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


“The other thing is . . .” He pauses, unsure whether to continue but, being Taylor, unable to stop himself. “She had lung cancer, and she’d cough up little bits of tumor for me to dissect. Some people might think that’s gross, but I found it scientifically very interesting.”

This is... weirdly beautiful, actually.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2012


Popular Science has an Australian version, Australian Popular Science. When I click on this URL I get redirected to the Australian site - but not to anything sensible. I get redirected to what would be the same story on the Australian site if the Australian site had the same story. But it doesn't. I just get a Page Not Found Error. So there's no point in the redirection. It's totally bizarre.

I actually contacted the Australian site to explain this to them once. I pointed out that they were losing traffic from sites like Boing Boing and Metafilter and that surely if there is any point to having a website in the first place they ought to be eager to get more traffic. I'm pretty sure that the person I was emailing had never heard of either of these, but she did offer to send me a copy of the article. Which was nice of her, but not really the point.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:05 PM on February 21, 2012


His parent's certainly have a wide array of useful friends. I couldn't get a crane from a friend, borrow a Geiger counter from another, and then have yet another nuclear-pharmacist friend to come over to check on safety practices.
posted by Arbac at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2012


Arbac: "His parent's certainly have a wide array of useful friends. I couldn't get a crane from a friend, borrow a Geiger counter from another, and then have yet another nuclear-pharmacist friend to come over to check on safety practices."

He should grown up where I did, I think probably 3/4s of my classmates parents worked out at the Hanford site. Seemed like everybody had a Geiger counter on a shelf somewhere.
posted by the_artificer at 4:38 PM on February 21, 2012


This is a really cool story...and the third time this week that the Davidson Academy has come up in my reality. The school is apparently amazing, in that these kids, who are so smart that the regular system has nothing for them, thrive at Davidson.

What's tragic is that there's a singular academy in the entire United States, that is dedicated to really bright children. I've looked at their admission policies, and I'm willing to bet that most Mefis would have qualified when we were of that age.

Why aren't there more schools like this, duplicating whatever it is that is so fantastic about this school? In fact, why aren't all of our schools learning from what works with these kids and extrapolating it to work with not only the gifted and talented kids, but with all kids?

Taylor is a brilliant young man, born into a family that could provide him with the resources and support he needed to be able to grow into a super-genius creating fusion in his garage, but how many Taylors are we willing to bury under our current model of education?
posted by dejah420 at 4:47 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


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