Magazine article The Spectator

'The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting and How to Make a Star', by Tom Clynes - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting and How to Make a Star', by Tom Clynes - Review

Article excerpt

The Boy who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting and How to Make a Star Tom Clynes

Faber, pp.320, £16.99, ISBN: 9780571298136

In 2008, when Taylor Wilson was 14, he created a working nuclear fusion reactor, 'a miniature sun on earth'. At 17 he entered his home-made radiation detector for inspecting cargo at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; his project was entitled 'Countering Nuclear Terrorism: Novel Active and Passive Techniques for Detecting Nuclear Threats'. In a field of 1,500 entries, it swept the board.

Winning the war against terror isn't Taylor's only ambition. He plans to provide affordable, sustainable energy for the whole planet, not to mention beating cancer. Aged 11, he watched his beloved grandmother withering from lung cancer, and became convinced that it was up to him to do something about it. Always his enabler and ally, Grandma gave Taylor a urine sample. 'I checked it with a Geiger counter and it was so hot from the diagnostic isotopes that I had to keep it in a lead pig [a shielded container for storing isotopes].' Things went even further:

She'd cough up little bits of tumor for me to dissect... I figured out how to make a serum. I put in nutrients like what you find in blood serum, salts and proteins. Then I put the cancer cells in the medium and cultured them and got them to grow.

As you do.

Everyone is astounded by Taylor, from Obama to Nobel prize-winning physicists to the neighbours back home in Texarkana, Texas, for whom he created a special backyard display: 'The Russians call this the Father of All Bombs. It should be more of a fireball than an explosion... but just in case, stand back.' But for Tom Clynes, the science journalist who shadowed Taylor for an extended period, Taylor's parents are 'even more impressive' in the lengths they went to and the risks they took to 'support their son as he pursued his unnerving interests'. Clynes's book is as much about 'extreme parenting' as it is about nuclear science.

It was not obvious that Kenneth and Tiffany Wilson would produce not one but two child geniuses -- Taylor's younger brother Joey is a maths prodigy and introverted, whereas Taylor is a great showman, and it has to be said that it's Joey who usually gets the fuzzy end of the family lollipop.

Kenneth runs a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Tiffany is a yoga teacher. …

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