One would think Jackson Oswalt is just another 14-year-old. His day-to-day activities do not suggest otherwise.
He goes to school, hangs out with his friends, and loves to play video games. However, the seemingly mundane picture takes a complete turn once you learn what he likes to do at home.
He loves to spend time working on his nuclear reactor which he stores in his playroom. Even more surprising is the fact that he built that when he was a 12-year-old boy!
The discovery that led him onto this incredible journey is of another teenage boy. Taylor Wilson, the inspiration behind Jackson, also constructed a nuclear reactor at his home.
Wilson was a 14-year-old when he made this achievement in 2008, in Reno, Nevada. Taylor was the youngest individual to attain nuclear fusion. He won plenty of awards and commendations. The former United States President, Barrack Obama also visited him. Wilson is currently aged 24 and conducts research to make nuclear fission technology more efficient than it currently is.
Taylor Wilson held the record of achieving nuclear fusion as the youngest person ever until January of 2018. Jackson Oswalt became his successor by achieving the same feat but at a younger age of 12. Oswalt’s results were inspected by other hobbyists and physicists on an online forum called fusor.net. He is the current record holder of being the youngest person to successfully build a nuclear fusion reactor.
Jackson Oswalt was a very competitive child from a young age and Taylor’s achievement provided the impetus he needed for this feat.
The process began with the acquisition of a primer for nuclear fusion. He chose fusion over fission because fusion has practically no chance of a meltdown and does not produce radioactive waste. Nuclear power facilities use nuclear fission to generate heat and subsequently harvest energy. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, harvests energy by the smashing of atoms.
However, fusion does require about a 100 million degree Celsius of heat. This, in turn, meant that the process would require exponentially more energy than what it would give back. The process has been under research, but has not shown much progress.
Jackson was not particularly deterred by all the obstacles he was seemingly facing. The first part of his project was to determine how much time he needed. Then came the tools and parts required for his project. Having spent time at the woodshop along with his granddad, he had plenty of self-assurance to go about his plans.
The one significant motivating factor that Jackson had for him was that he was presented with the opportunity to become a part of history. He had a chance to take a crack at becoming the youngest person ever to attain nuclear fusion.
His project required about $10,000 USD, which he found out after researching people who had already made their own reactors. To put a cherry on top of his endeavors, his parents supported him 100%. It is true his parents did not quite understand the whole plan, but they saw the genius in him.
Based out of his home in Memphis, Jackson turned his old playroom into a lab to make his nuclear reactor in. He used the successes and lessons of individuals who tried this process earlier to act as his guide.
The project required the handling of radioactive materials and 50,000 volts of electric current. While this might sound daunting to most of us, Jackson found it as an interesting challenge. His cautious parents, however, made him seek the counsel of a person that could instruct him.
The search for a qualified nuclear physicist to consult him did not garner any fruits. So the family sought the help of the physics teacher from his school, who was very keen on helping. Radiation is no small concern, so the family took help from experts at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in their hometown. The help of a professor of physics at the Christian Brother’s University was also enlisted in order to help Jackson insulate himself from radiation.
Quite dishearteningly, his peers and his teachers were not passionate supporters of his actions in the beginning. This led Jackson to keep the developments of his project to himself. But thankfully, he did have the full support of his parents and the folks who were assisting him. It is after people really grasped his staunch determination that his recognition and support truly flourished.
In the meantime, Jackson kept his progress updated on Fusor.net, where he sought help and guidance from other members. He finished his project just on time before his 13th birthday. His results were put up on the online forum to be verified.
Richard Hull, an administrator at Fusor.net and a retired electronics engineer, verified and declared Jackson Oswalt’s record as true. He became the youngest person to achieve nuclear fusion!
Jackson asserts that this achievement is one of many that he intends to pursue in his lifetime. He achieved fusion in early 2018 but began publicizing it fairly recently.
Jackson intends to pursue a nuclear physics career and become a pioneer at making nuclear fusion more efficient. One of his many plans is to build yet another reactor. This time, he intends to use a method called spherical tokamak process.
Jackson also expects to start an organization that would encourage young people to start their own projects as he did.
We sure hope there are more advancements and more record holders just like him! Maybe there is someone around your neighborhood building a nuclear reactor at home right now.