High school: Davidson Academy, Reno, Nev.
Invention: Weapons detector
If you think teens lack ambition, meet Taylor Wilson. Before he learned to drive, he taught himself how to make a fusion reactor in his parent’s garage. The one he built last year to detect nuclear and chemical threats works so well that the Department of Homeland Security has tapped him to construct a bigger version of it.
Wilson, a lanky, shaggy-haired 16-year-old, fashioned his cylindrical prototype from stainless steel and filled it with a gas made of deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. To test a suspicious object, he places it inside the cylinder’s chamber and flips a switch. Electricity runs along a wire cage inside to smash together deuterium molecules and send a powerful neutron beam hurtling toward the sample. When the beam strikes, the sample gives up its chemical identity in seconds.
On turning his folks’ garage into a nuclear lab, Wilson says, “There’s the occasional explosion, but I think my parents have gotten over that by now.” This fall, when he’s not foiling terrorist plots, he plans to finally get his driver’s license.
College: University of California at Berkeley