Authors: Tom Clynes (and Taylor Wilson)
Title: “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”
Subtitle: “Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star” (pun)
Publication: New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Eamon Damon Books, 2015; ISBN 978-0-544-08511-4; hardcover, 303 pages (plus 5 roman Introduction pages); four parts, 29 chapters, indexed.
also, e-book and audio format are available.
The cover of the book is yellow – the brightest color, in the center of human visible spectrum, because Taylor likes the uranium compound mix called yellowcake (the subject of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 mystery “Notorious.”
Taylor isn’t just a “brain”, but he is very good working with his hands “in the lab” – something I was not, when I encountered college organic chemistry in the fall of 1963. By age 14, he had built his first fusion reactor near the family home, relocated to the Reno, Nevada area so that he (and brother Joey) could attend the Davidson Academy. (See Issues blog, Nov. 7, 2015 and TV blog, report by Sanjay Gupta on the Academy, Dec. 6.)
I’ll leave readers to go through the book (or look up on Wikipedia) to meaning of fusion and fission. Clynes discusses Taylor’s gradual accumulation of hardware and the chemistry and physics or his experiments in great detail. Often Taylor is in yellow protective clothing (in the book and Internet pictures, and in videos).
Yes, Taylor literally created a star of plasma (the fourth state of matter and most common in the universe) in his garage. One wonders, could he create a black hole or wormhole? Is this the first step in playing god? It seems the natural progress of the universe (if there is intelligent design from a creator) for new independent conscious lives to form, with free-will, that will try to master creation on their own.
Clynes does discuss the safety issues, and it is more “legal” to acquire these raw materials than one might think. It’s easy to imagine the potential security problems in housing them.
Taylor, 21 now, and often speaking in Ted talks and at all kinds of events, has apparently “skipped college” and with the help of investors like Peter Thiel (maybe Mark Zuckerberg but not Donald Trump) started laying out his plans for innovation, including the necessary patents (which apparently have to be secured early).
His ideas touch many areas. He wants to make the electric power grids safer (more resilient from cascading failures, which could be caused by cyberterror, as in Ted Koppel’s book Nov. 10) by providing electric utilities with the ability to build small backup fission reactors, which he says could have prevented the disasters in Japan after the tsunami in 2011. He wants to improve screening of cargo by Homeland Security with newer devices that don’t depend as much on very rare materials (like an unusual isotope of helium). The book, by the way, goes into some detail on how interdependent we are on other countries (from Canada to China) to get the rare minerals that new green power sources will require. Clynes spends some space on the dirty bomb threat and believes Taylor’s ideas could make a future incident much less likely. The also has ideas for innovation in nuclear medical (especially cancer) diagnosis, which may be in some part inspired by Jack Andraka. The book describes his “loss” to Jack in the “Science Fair Superbowl” in 2013. (Jack’s book is reviewed here March 18.)
Clynes gives a lot of space to the education of gifted children, including Taylor and his brother Joey (described as more introverted), who could be compared to the Andraka brothers, or Param Jaggi. Clynes discusses Malcolm Galdwell's earlier writings ("Outliers", Nov. 27, 2008) that include, with a moral perspective, life circumstances and luck (even birth order or time of year) as to the opportunity to make the most of one's gifts. But Taylor’s capability to make stuff requiring intricate knowledge and manual skill is so amazing that one wonders if he acquired the knowledge in a past life. (One of his videos seems to give a subtle hint.) It sounds like a pretty good deal, to trade in a 90 year old body and start adulthood again at 14 (after a short respite in the Afterlife at the appropriate Focus Level). Maybe there is a way to have a 21-year-old body forever (drinking age), or 25 (car rental age). But the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy) gets in the way. Hence, biological life must reproduce.
If you can make a fusion reactor, can you possibly make a black hole? Then could you generate a universe and become a god?
The book describes his attempts at relationships, and gradual improvement in personal life. Like Jack Andraka, he reminds quite articulate and charismatic in public appearances.