Shared publicly  - 
Taylor Wilson

At 10, he built his first bomb.
At 11, he started mining for uranium and buying vials of plutonium on the Internet.
At 14, he made a nuclear reactor.

Wilson got his start on, a website where nuclear hobbyists who call themselves “fusioneers” fill message boards on topics that would enthrall only the geekiest subset of society, like “So where can I get a deal on deuterium gas?” The goal of every fusioneer is to build a reactor that can fuse atoms together, a feat first achieved by scientists in 1934.

“I’m obsessed with radioactivity. I don’t know why,” says Wilson in his laid-back drawl. “Possibly because there’s power in atoms that you can’t see, an unlocked power.”

Taylor Wilson (born 1994) is an American nuclear scientist who was noted in 2008 for being the youngest person in the world (at age 14) to build a working nuclear fusion reactor.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Energy offered federal funding to Wilson concerning research Wilson has conducted in building inexpensive Cherenkov radiation detectors; Wilson has declined on an interim basis due to pending patent issues. Traditional Cherenkov detectors usually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (USD), while Wilson invented a working detector that cost a few hundred dollars.

In May 2011, Wilson entered his radiation detector in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair against a field of 1,500 competitors and won a $50,000 award.

The Boy Who Played With Fusion

Tayloy's website:

You can choose to believe that this child is special and especially gifted, and that may be so. I choose to believe that this means that children should be allowed to specialize at younger ages instead of wasting their time in public schools. They should be taught to teach themselves, not to remember facts and take a test. They should be taught how to get the answers they might need for themselves, not from teachers.

This is the only interview I could find on the kid. He's asked, what was school like before going to the Davidson academy?

Taylor, "Boring."
Simon Cousins's profile photoRod Brock's profile photoBernard Matthews's profile photoديمه القحطاني's profile photo
Gee, you know, back when I went to public school, kids were allowed to do just that, encouraged, even. That all changed when Prop. 13 severely defunded the state and education became more "efficient." I had Greek, Latin, photography and auto shop. My son's generation barely had art or music. They don't have that at all, now.
I just finished reading the article in mental floss about Taylor Wilson. This young man is quite exceptional. I agree that traditional North American school systems tend to fail the gifted and the those with educational difficulties. It however works for the general population.
I remember having electives (1-2?) in California in the late 80s, early 90s. Do they still have them?

+Bruce Harding Works can be a pretty relative term. There's probably a lot of people that would disagree that it works. I suppose it depends on your circumstances and you're a success in life or if you've squandered any opportunities you've had. If you're doing well, it works for you, if you're not it doesn't. Meanwhile, the truth of it is a different matter entirely...

Let's also not forget that in life, luck does play a role. I wonder how many argue that it works when in fact they were just lucky to have wealthy parents, or some other factor that for whatever reason has conditioned their own environment such that they receach a different conclusion. Such conclusions I find to be more based a selfish morality of what is right and wrong, what works or what doesn't work. It's rare that these are objective conclusions based on information or many different walks of life.
+Jonathan Langdale Yes I agree it is a very relative term. I feel I can say this as I believe I'm one of those that the school system failed. Let me tell you that I think a school system is made of two parts the institution and the parents of the pupil. If either fails to do there part the student has a poor chance to reach his/her potential. For me a student as three outcomes in this respect; excel, be average, fail to me expectations. The present system gets maybe 50% of it's student to be average. A very miniscule percentage excels the rest fail to even achieve there potential.
It isn't clear to me if this has been said above, but there is also the issue of promoting mediocrity on the theory that the majority of people near the center of average are comfortable where they are and who they socialize and work with. Education, done well, will disturb that comfort zone.
+Bernard Matthews High school was some time ago for me, but I don't remember most students really caring that much as long as they survived.
+Bernard Matthews Yes, this is really a promotion of mediocrity. That describes it extremely well.

If one asks for a comparison of a bad example of why the system might be considered a success, it seems the only answer is that the alternative is a complete lack of public education.

So it's confusing. Some might think the argument is that education should be private. My beef is not with public education, that's just what it's called. My beef is with the system and methodology that public education uses.

And that really stems from the fact we cannot agree on things really due to political and economic differences. Technically, using that as a basis then public education doesn't work in practice but that doesn't mean it couldn't work with more flexibility and less rigid structure or rules. I'm assuming that the US eventually get past the civil war and this will be easier to do, like in parts of Europe.
+Jonathan Langdale +Bernard Matthews How would you proposed to change the system more importantly, how would you fund it. Seems to me that many want good education, but no one wants to fund it.
Americans enjoy the lowest taxes of any developed nation, and their education system clearly reflects this fact. They have the shortest school day and the shortest year. They need to spend less on war and weapons and more on the classroom. You get what you pay for.
As a professional sports ignorant person, this may not be a good analogy, but ...

The public doesn't seem to object to public money spent on professional sports venues, even though I would expect mediocre teams to have a tougher time with funding than teams that excel. There has to be a lesson for the "ed biz" in there somewhere.
+Rodrigo Mesa unfortunately, that doesn't explain why some states in the US have better school systems than others when they spend less money (per pupil, IIRC).
+Bernard Matthews First education is not a business. It is a fundamental part of our society. What we teach in school, shapes the society of those that come next will inherit. That is no small fact.
Watch this kid invent another horrific weopon in the future.....
+Antonio R It seems he's already invented a cheap way to detect radiation to be used at border crossings and defend against potential dirty bombs. He would know more than most the real dangers posed by things like cobalt, etc.
+Bruce Harding This just one idea. Maybe older children could monitor and see to the safety of younger children who interact in a safe way with other children while self-learning at learning/entertainment facilities. It would be a self-sufficient staff and a collaborative effort.

Basically, remove the teachers and create a way for the mature teenagers that already watch younger children to do so in a more productive environment.

Let the teachers focus more on the initial preparation, language and the very early years of life leading to any individual specialization or collaborative self-learning efforts.

I would propose that it remain publicly funded with more local governance and less focus on testing. I would remove all tests all together.

The only problem I have with this idea is the lack of parental involvement is just as bad as it currently is. I would actually say that some parents could be parents as a job if they wanted and be surrogates to other children for parents that were not willing or capable for whatever reason.

I also think that when a child starts specialization in a field similar to the parent, which might be natural, that the parent would be even more involved in an apprentice type program at their work, but that would mean getting over the taboo that children might be in the work place, and child labor issues.
Nuclear energy – good, nuclear weapons – bad. There’s no sign that this kid is interested in weapons, maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
From what I read, he had an interest in the power within the atom. He did have an interest in bombs. I don't think his goal is to make a new bomb. If anything he knows how powerful they are and what that means, hence the radiation detector. Although, that could have resulted from his own search for material with his Dad. Right now, he seems more interested in propulsion maybe.
That's why Homeschooling rocks!!! :)
If they are smart enough.....
I look forward to the day when one of the young techi's build a vehicle powered buy the same technology that powered the Iron Man suit, in the movie.
Why would they have to leave school entirely? Couldn't they have incorporate special instruction along side ther regular ciriculum? and for home schooled, the same extra instruction?
+Avalon Perdriel-Arons Nobody said children should be forced to specialize. The suggestion is that they shouldn't be prevented by being forced to memorize a bunch of facts and forced to take tests, or forced to spend a large portion of their life at a public day care system before they can start to gain skills and training which actually interests them until they are 17-18 years old.

Are you suggesting that children love school and that's what they're good at? This seems totally backwards. They're not allowed to do what they love. If they love video games, they're not allowed to indulge as much of their time in it. Instead they're told what they need to know instead of discovering this for themselves in the course their own self-guided study.

Some people do not immediately find what interests them perhaps because by the time they start looking, they've already had any spirit or inspiration crushed, or hormones are too much of a distraction.

I don't know about you, but when I was younger things were somehow more magical and awe inspiring. To my thinking those people that are lost may have lost something in their childhood which may not return the longer they wait.

And the current system does indeed force people to choose a specialization by the time they start higher-education. It puts everyone in a box and get's them accustomed to having to make this decision after high school.
+Stephen Courtright You sound like you're simply being defensive because you're a teacher. That might not be an entirely objective position because the suggestion might seem to imply you're not as needed, and that is not really the suggestion. I'm also not suggesting that day care facilities are exactly the same as middle schools or high schools. I'm making a loose analogy because part of the reason behind the schools are that parents cannot teach them this information due to the fact that need to work, and that we have specialized educators for specific topics so the if the parent can't read then the child can still learn. Or they simply cannot afford private education and broad based day care is cheaper. Do teacher's get paid a lot? That tells you right there.

The suggestion, which I've already elaborated on, was that the preparation should not be as broad and general. That the goal of teachers should be to teach children how to learn about what interests them most, and whatever topics they may need on their own through self-study. How to teach yourself, where to get the information and how to go about it. To the extent that they need further help they should be taught how they can seek out their own specialists in fields the feel they need more understanding. They should also be taught to question the information being given to them and to measure it's quality for themselves instead of just accepting it from teachers.

This is different than children being told that they need this broad array of subjects, facts and testing before they're allowed to walk through the door to higher-education.

A video game designer is not a naive specialization for a young child interested in computers. He/she can go into game design, character design, animation, modeling, programming, physics, simulations, etc. at a very young age with no need to learn other subjects until an older age. There are instances of very young kids making iPhone games, websites, etc.

I can assure you that when challenged with a lack of math in the quest to finish a video game, that student is going to learn the math concepts they need on their own using Wikipedia or Youtube, Khan in order to achieve their objective. They're not going to want to just learn all these concepts when they're not needed and have no immediate application.

I think children are probably better at teaching themselves that we think. It would be interesting to see if there was a school where children had free reign to go to any teacher they wanted and sit in on any classes they wanted and work on any projects they wanted. Or to simply make use of recorded content they could listen to at their own pace, similar to Khan. Children would eventually get bored and take up some field of study that interests them. They would eventually run into concepts that challenged them and possibly find that they enjoy learning by feeling empowered.
The average day care provider salary is about $48000/year. California had the highest average teacher salary in 2002-2003 at $55693. The median average in 2004 was $46,000/year for teachers. For high school teachers, median salaries in 2007 ranged from $35,000 in South Dakota to $71,000 in New York, with a national median of $52,000. In some cases, teachers made less than day care providers.
Well, I respectfully disagree. By that logic, all the more reason why you'd want to teach the children how to learn for themselves instead of trying to teach them everything they might need to know. In the event that no matter what was done or how many or how early a child was exposed to various things that they might not come to feel passionate enough about to self-learn and in the absence of finding their niche then you'd want them to have the knowledge how to self-learn when the time came. There's no possible way that you can anticipate what skills they will need and it's a near certainty some of things that will get focused may not be immediately useful. So they will be left in a position where they will then hopefully find something and then figure out that they need more training as opposed to simply learning it on their own.

Maybe people don't seem to realize you can teach yourself to play an instrument. This notion is not something that is taught, the actual specific skill is.

And since children are forced to memorize all this content and take tests, it's not really a fair conclusion to say that they would not have otherwise found a niche given the opportunity to explore the question as a priority instead of an afterthought.

I bring in the salary because my argument was that a large part of the reason for public education includes the need for daycare since parents cannot teach their kids themselves. If they could, say in their off-time, they would still need daycare and although their taxes wouldn't pay for it (although it should?), it would pretty much cost the same.
+Stephen Courtright +Jonathan Langdale I had a calculus professor in college that made what struck me as an interesting point. That was that it took many mathematicians hundreds and thousands of years to discover the math that we were being taught, and that consequently, we should not be expected to be able to 'see the obvious' on our own. I think the same thing applies to too much of the 'help kids discover knowledge' idea. The stuff that is really difficult is not going to be learned that way, unless it is something that is easier now than before. I recall reading that Da Vinci could be expected to understand the modern combustion engine. That would not mean that he could design one from scratch, nor does it mean he could safely drive a car in modern traffic. But it would not be unreasonable to expect a teenager to learn how to drive a car or even learn how one works. I do think it would be unreasonable to expect any average teenager to be a Da Vinci.

I do think it is the difficult knowledge that moves the average of students' abilities higher.

Edit: man -> many
+Bernard Matthews The suggestion is not that they learn on their own in a vacuum. The information is available on the internet for free, fully compiled in a readable form not much different than you'd get in a class room. Some might argue some examples are better than you'd get in a classroom. An internet forum is a great resource and goes to the point of solving problems through collaboration as a valid way to learn as opposed to requiring everything be memorized.

That argument that they need to discover the same concepts from scratch on their own seems odd to me. I don't know what part of this conversation gave you that idea? It's not my understanding that the many mathematicians who discovered new math had all the known concepts immediately accessible and indexed at their fingertips. This doesn't appear to be the same thing. They would be learning known concepts their own most efficient way as needed in their quest to specialize whatever field interests them most, and in doing so they would be training their brain to self-learn as opposed to training their brain to depend on teachers for learning.
+Bruce Harding Business is a part of many things when the exchange of money is involved. Since money is spent to further the cause of education, there is an education marketplace that consists of businesses catering to it, as well as the students, teachers, and schools, among others, which are the customers of that marketplace.

For example, overhead projectors are a product in the education marketplace (or were, before translucent LCD slates and small video projectors), which I believe is what Tom Lehrer was referring to when he said "This is the first room I've worked for a while that didn't have a blackboard, so we will have to make do with more primitive visual aids, as they say in the ed biz." Which is where I adopted the term from. The full monologue and song is here, with his permission as I understand it:
I agree that the public school system is broken, but letting kids learn on their own is too precarious to make it a plausible option. Besides, having only one subject that you know anything about is dangerous. If the market collapses in that field for any reason, (that is, something like a new invention that makes your chose field obsolete) then you're jolly good and stuck. You gotta have at least a start of other subjects to go off of in case one fails.
I don't see how that argument is helping the situation. People go back for retraining, they do not have all the information learned to crosstrain on their own. And there is nothing to compare it to to say it's worse.
You've got a point about nothing to compare it to. But I don't have much confidence in kids up to at least 15, and even up to beyond college. Most kids are more interesting in the latest movies than they are in learning anything. In other words, most kids have to be forced to learn. Not saying there isn't a way to make kids want to learn, but that isn't accomplished by leaving kids to themselves.
+Jonathan Langdale, my ideas about learning in a vacuum probably comes from at least two places, none of which are above ;-).

The first would be my participation in such an intentional environment as a student, usually in math or science classes, but arguably in music class as well. I also would be willing to try to make the case that any time a student asks a question in a field in which he or she does not have sufficient background to look up the answer, is being forced to learn in a vacuum when the teacher does not know and/or does not participate in helping the student find the answer, or at least help the student acquire the necessary background knowledge.

The second would be when an exceptional student wants to learn more than what is scheduled to be taught in a course. I would consider any time not used for learning by the exceptional student because they have to wait for the average folks to learn as time spent in a vacuum.

The third is when a teacher is (albeit unintentionally) wrong. This can happen when an English teacher tries to teach Geometry without sticking to the strict definitions used in the field. The word 'between' comes to mind in this case. I recall an English teacher who was unwilling to tell a Geometry class that when three points are on a circle, none of them is between the other two because the definition of between in Geometry requires that the three points be collinear.

Assuming that the information on the internet is as reliable as textbooks does not to me make the internet a good resource (I think it is, for other reasons). I've seen errors (not mere typos) in textbooks, and usually when I see the correction in a later edition, it is a different, but still wrong, piece of information.
+Kevin Beachy Perhaps we don't have confidence in them because of the way we treat them and the way they see our own behavior. It seems clear that they do not lack the ability to do this, they just lack the motivation. So suggesting that they're inherently unable to do this would seem to be a really flawed and circular argument.

We also seem to expect that they specialize during their teen years while they have a lot of other things going on emotionally. We only have our selves to blame from my point of view.

It's not their fault, they didn't choose this system. And ironically, neither did we. We suffer from the fact it was forced on us and we're just following what we saw from our own parents. Although, technically we've had the power to change it. We're afraid it's going to result in catastrophe if we give them a chance as if it's any worse than the current drop out rates.

If we had a more open educational system and they suggested we put everyone in a box and test them, we'd have same level of concern that some unknown alternative mush be bad before we've even tried it. We'd say it would cause kids to drop out and would be horrible to have kids wait that long to specialize.

Where as kids who look at a piece food and think it's yucky just because it's brown or different when we've never actually tasted it before. For all we know it's chocolate.
Motivation. A big challenge. And +Callum Johnston, no I'm not kidding. I'm 17 myself. If I hadn't an older brother that firmly believes in education, and the advantages thereof, I am not at all sure that my own thirst for education would have been as developed as it has been. But +Jonathan Langdale you do have a point about nothing else being tried. I argue here at disadvantage. But the concern for most of the kids coming out of our education system is not to turn out geniuses. If they were all geniuses, then none of them would be geniuses, because we define genius by comparison. Therefore, I say, the concern is to enable the kids to make a living, and to give opportunity to any exceptionally bright, to excel in his own field. I acknowledge the current system is not doing that. But I question whether more freedom in younger scholars would be advisable. However, I agree that it is worth a try. It can't be too much worse than it is already. So, in the end, point conceded. ;-)
It's a tough topic to even talk about. For one, teachers are already under paid. And another issue is lowering the age where kids might start to specialize might be seen as being related to this notion that kids should then be allowed to work at younger ages, similar to Gingrich's idea. It's tough because as soon as you start thinking about this and consider the positives, you have to worry about responding to those that may assume some sort of forced work welfare program will facilitate the return of child labor.

I agree that it can't be too much worse. If it could, it seems like it would only be worse because we fail to change and make the system better with new ideas, rather from any dangers new ideas might pose.

+Kevin Beachy It's great to see young people with great attitudes and objectivity. It seems to confirm to me that we have the wrong assumption about young people and their ability to make informed decisions. Just being older doesn't mean more wisdom, there are disadvantages to age. I think there is a real danger that older people are a problem specifically due to a loss of objectivity and a limited world view.
I think the problem in the US is that we have a culture of suing people for 'not thinking of the children', when perhaps people should instead be sued for 'not letting the children think' (tough to prove, I know).

Along those lines, a fellow from Germany once told me that the US has, as a practical matter, the legal drinking ages and the driving ages reversed. A teenager can learn how to drive a car in the US at 15 years, but can't legally have a drink until they are 21. The consequence of this is that young adults that wait until they are 21 to drink are more likely to drive drunk because they haven't learned how to self-judge how impaired they are. This person's point was that in Germany, he said, one can legally drink before one can legally drive, which means one learns to be aware of being impaired before being allowed to drive a multi-ton vehicle.

Please, someone else verify this or disprove it, so I won't use this example if it isn't accurate.
+Jonathan Langdale "Maybe older children could monitor and see to the safety of younger children who interact in a safe way with other children while self-learning at learning/entertainment facilities."

Good idea. Especially when they're handling plutonium.

And on the evening news: The nuclear meltdown today at the Oppenheimer Memorial Preschool raises the question...
I used to work in a museum that had 'do not touch' signs with the word 'not' crossed out. The people most likely not to understand that those signs meant that children did not have to fear damaging anything were the parents. Conclusion: parents that cannot follow simple instructions should not be giving instruction to children. I think that really applies to anyone 'older'.
+Rod Brock Maybe if children were managing Fukushima they would have had better ethics, maybe they would have been able to get the generators moved to a safer location or listened to the study that suggested it was a risk?
+Bernard Matthews I agree about the idea of not letting children think. I don't know if I would go so far as suing unless the children themselves started doing this. Then I would be all for it to a degree, it would have to depend on a way that the children would still maintain contact with the parents in a positive way. Children would have a great argument that to some degree their Constitutional rights might be infringed on by being indoctrinated into specific religions before being given enough information to make the choice for themselves. Deciding that murder is bad is one thing, deciding which religion you want to follow is another because ideally that should not affect other people.

There is also the idea that some children at whatever age can divorce their parents. I dont know the specifics or at what ages. I'm not sure that this is the answer. Parents need to be involved and close to their children but the intellect of the children shouldn't be crushed by the parent to the degree I think has been.

Einstein put it best, "It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."
+Bernard Matthews In Poul Anderson's "Twilight World," in a post nuclear-war setting, a child is born to a family who, like so many children born post-conflagration, seems to have strong mental deficiencies. However, every night after dinner, this kid (whose father is a physicist) likes to take out ten or twelve of his father's physics books and lay them open in a circle surrounding himself, on the floor. Then he moves from book to book in no particular order, turning pages, seeming to be very intent on his nightly pursuit. Nobody pays much attention to this, but here's where it gets interesting: the kid can communicate telepathically with his dog, and one night, when everyone is sleeping, his dog (who is outside) tells him that there are bad men out in the forest who plan to rob the house and kill everyone. So, this "cretin" kid goes down to the power shack where the generators that power the small community are humming, gathers together some copper pipe, wire, bits and pieces of this and that, and in the thirty minutes before the bad men arrive, he builds a weapon that resonates with the human body in such a way that it turns your internal organs to jelly in several seconds....and saves his family and the community.

Turns out the kid is not "dumb" at all. But he does not think of things in a way that even remotely resembles "linear." He thinks in networks, matrices of interconnected ideas and data.
+Rod Brock No, the kid is not dumb. But he arguably does have some deficiencies, if he is needing a telepathic dog to serve as an intermediary between himself and other humans. ( I know I'm inferring that the dog was telepathic, but let's face it, it is one thing for a dog to dislike a person, and another for it to know the concepts of robbery and murder. Sounds like the story has a bit of "A Boy and His Dog" by Harlan Ellison in there.
+Bernard Matthews The idea of what is normal or how to define various deficiencies is relative. The brain is a wonderful and complex organ we're only now beginning to unlock. Our understanding could be not unlike the once popular view that the world is flat.
Wait till he discovers pot,not saying he will, but man can u imangane the bong this kid wound build
+Jonathan Langdale, a flat world is still a popular view in basic physics demos such as the 'monkey shoot' (is their a PETA-friendly version of that now?) - it makes the math much easier.

The belief that the world really is flat is a deficiency, IMHO ;-)
+Jonathan Langdale yes, a limited worldview might be a problem, but any worldview is by definition limited. If you believe one thing you exclude another. Kids often have both the advantages and problems associated with a lack of a specified worldview, or rather of a vague worldview that is only in its infancy. And hey, if a kid completely lacks a worldview, and is completely free to take any route he chooses, what is to prevent him putting a bullet through your head? There is just reason for keeping children somewhat restrained.

Another thing about kids that hasn't been mentioned yet is (at least young children) their fickleness. If they could specialize, would they stick to one subject?
Maybe some degree of fickleness is needed to settle on something and to make sure there is at least some range of skill acquired. Whenever I see a trait we have I always think it's there for a reason.
+Bernard Matthews: No, the kid is not dumb. But he arguably does have some deficiencies, if he is needing a telepathic dog to serve as an intermediary between himself and other humans.

Oh, there's definite "deficiencies" in terms of the kid communicating with humans; the story follows him as he grows up, and he has to be trained to "socialize," but always has difficulty with it.

I know I'm inferring that the dog was telepathic, but let's face it, it is one thing for a dog to dislike a person, and another for it to know the concepts of robbery and murder.

If I recall correctly (I don't have a copy on hand), the dog itself was a mutant, unusually intelligent for a dog.

Sounds like the story has a bit of "A Boy and His Dog" by Harlan Ellison in there.

Well, perhaps at that early juncture, but I think on the whole, Anderson may have been thinking of the idiot savant when he developed the character of the boy. I was at a con where Poul Anderson attended many years ago, and I wanted to talk about the book with him, but it's dreadfully difficult to get near the guests of honor at a con and have anything near a normal conversation.
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Add a comment...