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