A Child Explains Why He Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Playroom via Motherboard

By Rob Dozier

“I realized that certain things that I thought were impossible for someone my age aren’t impossible,” said Jackson Oswalt, 14.

Memphis-native Jackson Oswalt is a pretty normal eighth grader in most regards. He plays tennis and runs cross country. He likes school and hanging out with his friends. He even plays Fortnite now and again. But in addition to all that, the 14-year-old also enjoys fiddling with a nuclear reactor that he keeps in his home—one that he built when he was 12.

His unusual hobby started couple of years ago, when Oswalt came across a story about Taylor Wilson, a 14-year-old who built his own nuclear fusion reactor in his garage in Reno, Nevada, in 2008, making him the youngest person to ever achieve nuclear fusion. The achievement earned him praise and accolades and even a visit with President Barack Obama. Wilson, now 24, works as a researcher exploring ways to make nuclear fusion more efficient.


Oswalt started with poring over other people’s accounts of how they built their reactors. He then assembled a list of parts he would need, which added up to nearly $10,000, he said. Fortunately his parents were, while confused, totally on board.


Working with electricity at more than 50,000 volts and radioactive material wasn’t enough to make Oswalt sweat. But his parents, concerned about safety, pushed him to consult with anyone that might be able to provide some guidance. 

They didn’t have much success finding a nuclear physicist, so they consulted Oswalt’s physics teacher, who was excited to help. The family also enlisted researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to tell him how to protect himself from radiation, and a physics professor from Christian Brothers University. 

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