Describe your project and how it can be used in the real world.
The title is “countering nuclear terrorism.” There are basically 35 million cargo containers going through ports each year in the US, and (officials) have to check them for things like nuclear weapons or chemical warfare agents. So I’ve developed a system that can accurately scan for these materials, much like an X-ray, and give a fingerprint of what’s inside cargo containers. So basically, it’s a system that’s called an active interrogation system, and it uses my fusion reactor. I started building my fusion reactor when I was 11 years old, and when I was 14, I first “got” nuclear fusion – the youngest person in the world to ever do that. So then I wanted a challenge and I decided to fight terrorists with it, and basically how it works is it fuses together heavy hydrogen – deuterium. And when these deuterium atoms fuse together, they give off neutrons. It’s that neutron radiation that goes into the cargo container, and depending on what the makeup of the cargo container is, it will react in such a way that it gives off radiation. I detect that radiation and it’s specific to whatever that cargo container’s contents are.
Click here to listen to Taylor describe the science behind his project.
How were you able to start the project, when it required so many sophisticated materials?
I started this project when I was 11, and the parts needed are very expensive. So I started calling people. I started calling semiconductor companies and big, multinational corporations that do technology work and got them to donate these parts that are normally very expensive. And here in Reno, we have the University of Nevada-Reno, and I went to the physics department. They offered to give me a bunch of parts, and after I got fusion, they offered to give me my own lab here to work in. So that was very helpful.
What sparked your interest in the project in the first place?
I wanted to make fusion. Don’t ask me why, but I just did. So I wanted to build a fusion reactor, and after I got done with it, that’s when I was stuck. I needed a challenge. So I thought, why not use the byproduct of this fusion reaction, which is neutrons, to do something? And in this case, it was fighting nuclear terrorism.
What doors do you feel like science has opened up for you and what would you tell others your age about pursuing careers in the sciences?
President Obama said in his State of the Union address that we should really put the winners of the science fair on the same level as the winners of the Super Bowl, and I agree with that. Some people may not go into science because they think, just nerds go into science, or science isn’t cool. But the thing is, science is cool, and me and my friends who do science are cooler than the people who don’t. So, I really think that science is a cool thing and if you really want to change the world, go into science. Because that’s the future and that’s who will really change the world.