12-year-old becomes youngest to achieve nuclear fusion using home lab

26 Feb 2019

Image: © LanaPo/Stock.adobe.com

American Jackson Oswalt has proven himself to be a ‘shining star’ when it comes to nuclear physics, with the construction of a working fusion reactor.

While the world’s leading scientists attempt to find a way to develop a stable nuclear fusion reactor that could one day provide a near-limitless, cheap and clean source of energy, one young hobbyist is making headlines for doing something many his age wouldn’t even dream of.

According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, just hours before his 13th birthday, Jackson Oswalt became the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. Earlier this month, members of the Open Source Fusor Research Consortium confirmed his achievement, surpassing the previous record set by Taylor Wilson, who did it at the age of 14.

Oswalt spent approximately $10,000 turning an old playroom in his parents’ house into a fully functioning nuclear lab that uses 50,000V of electricity to heat deuterium gas in a vacuum. The resulting action fuses the atoms’ nuclei, resulting in the fusion reaction.

‘I didn’t want to spend all my life doing video games’

Writing on the Fusor.net forum in 2018, Oswalt revealed his achievement: “It will come as a major surprise that I would even consider believing I had achieved fusion. However, over the past month I have made an enormous amount of progress resulting from fixing major leaks in my system.”

Oswalt, now 14, said that the feat took him a total of two years to achieve after years of living what sounds like a typical childhood. “A couple of years back, all I did was play video games,” he said. “And I decided I didn’t want to spend all my life doing video games.”

He even brought his reactor to school for a show-and-tell, but only on the condition that he could prove to his school his reactor was not dangerous. “A lot of ’em thought it was cool, a lot of ’em didn’t care,” Oswalt said. “As was to be expected.”

Speaking of the confirmation process, Fusor.net verifier and retired electronics engineer Richard Hull said that Oswalt’s results were put under considerable scrutiny. “You’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops to prove your work. We catch anybody trying to cheat,” he said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic