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TED2012

Taylor Wilson: Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor

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Taylor Wilson believes nuclear fusion is a solution to our future energy needs, and that kids can change the world. And he knows something about both of those: When he was 14, he built a working fusion reactor in his parents' garage. Now 17, he takes the TED stage at short notice to tell (the short version of) his story.

- Nuclear scientist
At 14, Taylor Wilson became the youngest person to achieve fusion -- with a reactor born in his garage. Now he wants to save our seaports from nuclear terror. Full bio

So my name is Taylor Wilson.
00:15
I am 17 years old
00:17
and I am a nuclear physicist,
00:19
which may be a little hard to believe, but I am.
00:21
And I would like to make the case
00:24
that nuclear fusion
00:27
will be that point,
00:29
that the bridge that T. Boone Pickens talked about
00:31
will get us to.
00:33
So nuclear fusion is our energy future.
00:35
And the second point,
00:38
making the case that kids can really change the world.
00:40
So you may ask --
00:42
(Applause)
00:44
You may ask me,
00:48
well how do you know what our energy future is?
00:50
Well I built a fusion reactor
00:52
when I was 14 years old.
00:54
That is the inside of my nuclear fusion reactor.
00:56
I started building this project
00:59
when I was about 12 or 13 years old.
01:01
I decided I wanted to make a star.
01:04
Now most of you are probably saying,
01:06
well there's no such thing as nuclear fusion.
01:08
I don't see any nuclear power plants with fusion energy.
01:11
Well it doesn't break even.
01:14
It doesn't produce more energy out than I put in,
01:16
but it still does some pretty cool stuff.
01:18
And I assembled this in my garage,
01:21
and it now lives in the physics department
01:23
of the University of Nevada, Reno.
01:25
And it slams together deuterium,
01:27
which is just hydrogen with an extra neutron in it.
01:29
So this is similar to the reaction
01:32
of the proton chain that's going on inside the Sun.
01:35
And I'm slamming it together so hard
01:37
that that hydrogen fuses together,
01:40
and in the process it has some byproducts,
01:42
and I utilize those byproducts.
01:44
So this previous year,
01:47
I won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
01:50
I developed a detector that replaces the current detectors
01:54
that Homeland Security has.
01:56
For hundreds of dollars,
01:58
I've developed a system that exceeds the sensitivity
02:00
of detectors that are hundreds of thousands of dollars.
02:03
I built this in my garage.
02:06
(Applause)
02:08
And I've developed a system
02:10
to produce medical isotopes.
02:12
Instead of requiring multi-million-dollar facilities
02:14
I've developed a device that, on a very small scale,
02:16
can produce these isotopes.
02:19
So that's my fusion reactor in the background there.
02:21
That is me at the control panel
02:26
of my fusion reactor.
02:28
Oh, by the way, I make yellowcake in my garage,
02:30
so my nuclear program is as advanced as the Iranians.
02:33
So maybe I don't want to admit to that.
02:36
This is me at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland,
02:39
which is the preeminent particle physics laboratory in the world.
02:42
And this is me with President Obama,
02:46
showing him my Homeland Security research.
02:48
(Applause)
02:51
So in about seven years
02:56
of doing nuclear research,
02:58
I started out with a dream
03:00
to make a "star in a jar," a star in my garage,
03:02
and I ended up meeting the president
03:04
and developing things that I think can change the world,
03:06
and I think other kids can too.
03:09
So thank you very much.
03:11
(Applause)
03:13
Translated by Jenny Zurawell

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About the speaker:

Taylor Wilson - Nuclear scientist
At 14, Taylor Wilson became the youngest person to achieve fusion -- with a reactor born in his garage. Now he wants to save our seaports from nuclear terror.

Why you should listen

Physics wunderkind Taylor Wilson astounded the science world when, at age 14, he became the youngest person in history to produce fusion. The University of Nevada-Reno offered a home for his early experiments when Wilson’s worried parents realized he had every intention of building his reactor in the garage.

Wilson now intends to fight nuclear terror in the nation's ports, with a homemade radiation detector priced an order of magnitude lower than most current devices. In 2012, Wilson's dreams received a boost when he became a recipient of the $100,000 Thiel Prize. Wilson now intends revolutionize the way we produce energy, fight cancer, and combat terrorism using nuclear technology.

More profile about the speaker
Taylor Wilson | Speaker | TED.com