12-year-old American boy achieves nuclear fusion at home
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A smashing success

12-year-old American boy achieves nuclear fusion at home

Jackson Oswalt, who is believed to be youngest ever to reach the feat, built a small amateur nuclear reactor with parents’ financial assistance

Jackson Oswalt shows his homemade fusion reactor to Fox News. (Fox News screenshot)
Jackson Oswalt shows his homemade fusion reactor to Fox News. (Fox News screenshot)

An American boy is claiming the title of youngest ever person to achieve nuclear fusion, after building a reactor in his home at the age of 12.

With financial assistance from his parents, Jackson Oswalt of Memphis, Tennessee purchased equipment worth around $10,000 and converted an old playroom into a physics lab, Fox News reported.

After a year of work, and with the assistance of an online amateur physicist forum, the Open Source Fusor Research Consortium, Oswalt announced that he believed he had managed to fuse two deuterium gas atoms into helium: a detector he had connected to the reactor had registered the ejection of a neutron from the atoms — the telltale sign of successful fusion.

The reactor smashes the atoms together by heating them inside an airless plasma core with 50,000 volts of electricity.

After inspection of his setup and results, the Consortium has recognized Oswalt, now 14, as a “fusioneer” — apparently making him the youngest in the world to reach the goal. The previous record holder was 14 when he managed the feat.

“The start of the process was just learning about what other people had done with their fusion reactors,” Oswalt told Fox. “After that, I assembled a list of parts I needed. [I] got those parts off eBay primarily and then, 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.”

Getting the equipment to work properly was a months-long challenge, but “After a while, it became pretty simple to realize how it all worked together… Eventually all those pieces of the puzzle came together to make a good project.”

Oswalt’s parents said that beyond ensuring he protected himself from the dangers of radiation and electrocution by having him consult with experts, they had little understanding of his work.

However, “Being a parent of someone that was as driven as he was for 12 months was really impressive to see,” father Chris Oswalt said. “It was everyday grinding.”

Though scientist are still struggling to construct fusion reactors for major power production (current nuclear reactors use fission) constructing a small amateur one at home is doable. The Fusor Research Consortium currently lists dozens of members as fusioneers. However, at his record young age, Oswalt appears to be its star achiever.

At least for now.

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