The Nuclear Boy Scouts: radioactive obsessions and genius unleashed on Science Friction
with Natasha Mitchell on RN
Summary: Remarkable kids with radioactive obsessions. This is wild, believe us.
Author, Photographer and Speaker
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
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
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.
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.
Tom Clynes is an author, photojournalist and speaker whose curiosity has taken him to some of the world's most remote and intriguing corners. Tom covers the adventurous side of science, the environment, and education. Read More About Tom
"Here is the amazing story of an unbelievable boy—somebody who seems more like a figure out of fiction (science fiction, to be specific) than reality. But the story is true, the boy is true, and the science is true. And the world that opens up to us through his story is both fascinating and slightly terrifying...but in a good way. You won't be able to walk away from this tale."
Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love May 19, 2015
"This book is incredibly valuable at all levels, and magnificently readable. Tom Clynes has provided a classic of psychology, educational theory, and advocacy for re-evaluating our current science illiteracy at the national level that should be mandatory reading for every educational theorist and politician in the world, as well as for all concerned parents and anyone who wants a safer environment at any level."
Trudie Barreras Schuyler Art May 19, 2015
"Imagine if cartoon whiz-kid Jimmy Neutron were real and had a brainchild with MacGyver and his adolescence got told as a rollicking bildungsroman about American prodigies and DIY nuclear reactors—well, that’s this book."
Jack Hitt author of Bunch of Amateurs May 19, 2015
“Wow! This is a very human manual on how to deal with having a genius at home. But it also details how single individuals can drive discovery, economic growth, political change, and wonder out of a single brain. If you want to understand where true power and change comes from, read this now.”
Juan Enriquez author of Evolving Ourselves and As The Future Catches You May 19, 2015
"Clynes is a great writer, and I loved how he explains the science in a way that didn't talk down to the reader, but is very clear. He does a wonderful job writing about Taylor and his parents, and more broadly, about nuclear science and also the sad state of the education of the gifted in the United States. This isn't just a homage to Taylor, either; Clynes raises some tough questions about his personality and his future. A highly recommended read."
Suzanne Amara Vine Voice May 19, 2015
"In this delightful book, Tom Clynes proves that when we allow young people to take risks and give them freedom, resources, and mentorship, they can do amazing things."
Nikhil Goyal author of One Size Does Not Fit All May 19, 2015
"Clynes guides us on an engrossing journey to the outer realms of science and parenting. The Boy Who Played with Fusion is a fascinating exploration of 'giftedness' and all its consequences."
Paul Greenberg author of Four Fish and American Catch May 19, 2015
"A thoughtful and important read for parents, teachers, psychologists, and policy makers—bravo!!"
Dona Matthews co-author of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids May 19, 2015
"This book tells the nearly unbelievable story of a gifted child growing up in an incredibly supportive environment and accomplishing things most people would write off as ludicrous for a teenager to even attempt. While the events in the book are remarkable, the family dynamics and developmental psychology portrayed in this book make it a completely engrossing read."
J. Finkel Jack of Trades May 19, 2015
Tom wowed the Explorers Club in New York last night, pulling the audience in with his dramatic visuals, his energetic delivery, and his challenge to think big and do good.
John Rasmussen Editor-In-Chief, National Geographic Adventure May 23, 2015
Tom's visually stunning presentation coupled with his empowering message left our most important constituents feeling enormously proud, and part of something important.
Glenn Chown, Executive Director, Grand Traverse Land Conservancy May 23, 2015
A week later and everyone’s still talking about it! I can’t imagine a better speaker for what we wanted to accomplish. You opened up our thinking, lifted the energy level, and created an anything-is-possible spirit. Home run!
Steve Carmichael, Landmark College May 23, 2015
It was fantastic to have Tom Clynes, acclaimed journalist and photographer, open the conference with his heartrending and inspiring stories. These portraits of men and women who made a difference to the planet and to their fellow humans made the point to all of us at the Innovation Takes Root Conference: new solutions are needed for existing problems and it is up to courageous people to make that difference.
Bill Suehr, CEO, NatureWorks LLC May 23, 2015
It was a blessing to have shared just a fraction of your experience through your sentiments and photos. Your presentation was phenomenal and moving to each and every one of us at the conference.
Donna Motley, Universal Dynamics May 23, 2015
Thank you again for such a terrific presentation. The arresting stories of once-ordinary people transforming their lives into extraordinary, world-changing adventures challenged us all to consider higher goals. People are emailing and calling about how great it was and that’s exactly the kind of response we were hoping for.
Jennifer Jay, Grand Traverse Land Conservancy May 23, 2015
Your compelling stories and amazing photographs of the people you have met and places you have been really created, for me, a sense of awe. I got similar feedback from other attendees who felt very much inspired and empowered by seeing the difference that just one individual can make when they apply the right perseverance and determination.
Jim Nangeroni, Innovation Takes Root Conference May 23, 2015
I have had nothing but positive comments about your presentation, and two weeks later our members are still talking about it. People felt that it really opened their minds to what is possible and that ANYONE can change the world.
William Carteaux, President & CEO, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association May 23, 2015
Massively inspiring with respect to effecting creative change in environmental sciences, and your life's work. Thank you!
Wendy Vincent, Royal Ontario Museum May 23, 2015
I have traveled throughout the world and I think the images you displayed during your presentation were probably the most moving of anything I’ve seen. Thank you for taking us on that journey with you!
Chad Keilen, Encon, Inc. May 23, 2015
Tom Clynes showed us what is out there and through his experiences he showed us that it’s possible to still do things we want to do. As students, we need to have those dreams of what we can do with our lives.
Quintin VerHagen, University of Nebraska May 23, 2015
We expected your keynote presentation to be the highlight of a day of stories of difference-makers, and it was that and so much more! Thank you for adding depth and bringing the discussion and the energy to a new level.
Bonnie Payne, University of Nebraska Conference on World Affairs May 23, 2015
I wake up now to the mantra “Audacity ... a new way of life!
Hilary Burke, Turtle TV May 23, 2015
Awesome vibe, great turn-out, brilliant and inspiring lecture. Your presentation made a very, very big impact on us and our constituents.
Dave Ireland, Royal Ontario Museum May 23, 2015