While other teenagers might be busy curating their social media pages or playing Fortnite for hours, 14-year-old Jackson Oswalt has been spent his free time working on building his own nuclear reactor in his Memphis home. Now, the science wunderkind is being honored by city leaders for his accomplishments for reportedly being the youngest person to ever achieve nuclear fusion.
At just 12 years old, Jackson chose to invest his time exploring his interest in nuclear physics, Fox News reported. After scouring the internet, the Memphis student came across Taylor Wilson, an Arkansas native who gained recognition in the science community as the youngest individual to achieve nuclear fusion in 2008 at the age of 14.
The nuclear process is no small feat. It involves smashing light atoms together to produce energy and is the fundamental energy-producing process in stars, according to the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information. But, at 12 years old, Jackson figured if Wilson could do it, then he could too—and maybe even break Wilson’s record in the process.
The budding nuclear engineer set off on his scientific ventures by turning his playroom into a laboratory, and ordering a various vacuums, pumps and chambers from eBay to build his very own nuclear fusion reactor.
“The start of the process was just learning about what other people had done with their fusion reactors,” the Memphis teen told Fox News, adding that his parents spent nearly $8,000 to $10,000 to support his nuclear experiment. “After that, I assembled a list of parts I needed... Often times the parts that I managed to scrounge off of eBay weren’t exactly what I needed. So, I’d have to modify them to be able to do what I needed to do for my project.”
Without a blueprint for building a homemade nuclear fusion reactor, Jackson made progress through trial and error. His only guidance was the Open Source Fusor Research Consortium, an online forum where he consulted with fellow amateur physicists about his findings.
Jackson’s father Chris Oswalt was surprised by his son’s dedication and determination throughout the 12-month endeavor.
“Being a parent of someone that was as driven as he was for 12 months was really impressive to see,” Chris told Fox News. “I mean it was everyday grinding; Everyday learning something different; everyday failing and watching him work through all those things.”
Jackson’s work finally paid off: Hours before his 13th birthday, he made history as the youngest person to achieve nuclear fusion on Jan. 19, 2018.
“After a while, it became pretty simple to realize how it all worked together, but at the start it was definitely figuring out one aspect of it, memorizing what that actually meant and then moving on to a different aspect of it,” Jackson told Fox News. “Eventually all those pieces of the puzzle came together to make a good project.”
Months after the project, Jackson continued to test his fusion reactor to authenticate his ambitious project. Amateur physicists have since verified Jackson’s work, solidifying what is believed to be a world record. On Tuesday, Memphis City leaders officially honored Jackson’s accomplishments with a resolution.
“Not only did Jackson spend his 12th year assembling parts to create nuclear fusion at home, he developed this project through experimental trial and error, given no blueprints for nuclear fusion exist for pre-teens, let alone adults,” said City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad. “Remarkable accomplishment, and beyond that feat, Jackson is establishing a fund to ensure imaginative youth scientists are not impeded by a lack of financial resources to fulfill their dreams.”
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