WICN 90.5FM – Tom Clynes: The Boy Who Played With Fusion


Most young teens are fascinated with pop music or sports, but Taylor Wilson (pictured) was obsessed with nuclear physics, collecting radioactive materials and building a fusion reactor. Imagine being the parents of this extraordinary and gifted boy! What is the best strategy for raising and educating a gifted child like Taylor? Tonight on Inquiry we talk with writer and editor TOM CLYNES about his wonderful new biography of Taylor: THE BOY WHO PLAYED WITH FUSION: EXTREME SCIENCE, EXTREME PARENTING AND HOW TO MAKE A SUN.

Listen to the interview at WICN.org

EWA Radio – Summer Reading List ‘The Boy Who Played With Fusion’


Episode Info

In The Boy Who Played With Fusion, journalist Tom Clynes tells the story of Taylor Wilson, a boy genius with a passion for nuclear fusion who makes his way from his modest home in Arkansas to center stage in world of international science competitions. Clynes, writes regularly National Geographic and Popular Science, where he is a contributing editor. For the debut episode of EWA Radio’s new Summer Reading List series, Clynes spoke with public editor Emily Richmond about the challenges that families of prodigies can face. He also raises some important questions about the direction public education is taking when it comes to nurturing the talents of profoundly gifted students.

Listen to the interview at Stitcher

National Geographic – Book Talk

Why This 14-Year-Old Kid Built A Nuclear Reactor

In his quest to better the world,Taylor Wilson captured the interest of Homeland Security and ended up with radioactive pants.

By Simon Worrall, National Geographic


Author Tom Clynes doesn’t do optimistic. The contributing editor for Popular Science is usually attracted to stories about Ebola epidemics or eco-mercenaries. But when his life and family began to fall apart and he found himself in the middle of a messy divorce, he met Taylor Wilson, a boy who had just created a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.

Fired by this young genius’s optimism and desire to make the world a better place, he decided to devote himself to telling Taylor’s story in his new book, The Boy Who Played With Fusion.

Talking from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he describes how meeting Taylor made him rethink his relationship with his own children; why we are ignoring gifted children in favor of under-achievers; and why it is crucial to give our brightest and best the support they need.

The book opens with you accompanying Taylor and his father down an abandoned mineshaft in search of “hot rocks.” Set the scene for us.

The Boy Who Played With Fusion  by Tom Clynes

The Boy Who Played With Fusion by Tom Clynes

We went into an abandoned uranium mine in the Virginia Mountains in Nevada, just north of where Taylor now lives in Reno, to find uranium rock. On the way, he’s talking my ear off. He’s the total opposite of the science fair introvert sitting in the corner staring at his naval. He loves to evangelize about everything nuclear.

Eventually we will make yellow cake out of the ore we collect in Taylor’s garage. We have to pop this chain link fence to get into the mine. We have a pickaxe, shovel and flashlight and go down a few passageways where we find some veins of radioactive water running down the side of the mine. It literally glows. [Laughs]

When we go back over the fence Taylor’s Geiger counter brushes against his thigh and he realizes that his pant legs are radioactive. So, he rips off his pants and sits there in his boxer shorts, trying to figure out what kind of radiation it is. “It’s not loose contamination, “ he says, “so it makes me think it’s been on the pants for a while. But, how? My jeans are generally not radioactive at the start the day!” [Laughs]

Tell us about Taylor and how you first heard about him?

I’m a contributing editor of Popular Science. In 2010, I started nosing around this community of high-end nerds who were not working in billion dollar research labs like a lot of nuclear researchers but doing crazy things in their garages—tinkering with nukes, transmuting elements and building atom-smashing machines.

Someone mentioned this 14-year-old kid from Texarkana, Arkansas, which is not exactly a hotbed of science in this country. But he’d just become one of only 32 people to build a nuclear fusion reactor themselves. So, I decided to get in touch with him. I was drawn in by his audacity, enthusiasm and optimism, and the fact that he just goes out and does things that everybody else thinks are impossible.


Read the rest of the story at National Geographic

The Right Kind of Renaissance?

Are We Doing Enough to Support the Untapped Potential of Gifted Children Who Are Not at the Top of the Socio-Economic Curve?

By Tom Clynes

Just in time for summer vacation, the Acceleration Institute at the University of Iowa has released A Nation Empowered, the 10-year follow-up to the influential report titled A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. As the new title suggests, academics see clear signs of a budding renaissance in gifted education. Taking advantage of expanded options, many bright students will spend at least a part of this summer in intensive, university-based programs, gorging themselves on a year’s worth of math or science or literature in a few weeks.
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And yet, one has to wonder if it’s the right kind of renaissance. As gifted children’s needs creep back into the national consciousness after decades of neglect, support for the top end of the talent curve is still a privilege enjoyed mostly by students who are also at the top end of the socioeconomic curve. Good schools and a booming talent-development industry boost affluent children’s chances of success, with legions of tutors, test-prep entrepreneurs, and admissions consultants (one of whom promises to return his sixty-thousand-dollar fee if a student isn’t accepted to an Ivy League university).

Recent research shows that high-ability students who don’t receive educational enrichment are far less likely to live up to the potential indicated by their test scores, and often become bored and frustrated. These studies underscore the tremendous amount of missed potential. “We’re not coming close to identifying all of this population,” says Vanderbilt’s David Lubinski, who co-directs the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, “so many of the country’s smartest kids thus don’t get what they need to develop their capabilities.” Given that giftedness can spring from anywhere—from the blue blood of Boston’s Back Bay or from a back bayou in Louisiana—it’s worth pondering how many Salks, Gateses, or Curies we’re missing, and the implications of that for our economy and society.

A Nation Empowered makes clear that we know how to confidently predict which adolescents are likely to go on to be high performers. We also know the most effective ways to nurture their talents—often in ways that are not particularly resource-intensive. And yet, we are not making society-wide efforts to do so.

By Tom Clynes, author of The Boy Who Played With Fusion