May 7, 1994 |
Texarkana, Arkansas, United States
Everybody after Fukushima had to reassess the safety of nuclear. When I set out to design a reactor, I knew it had to be passive and intrinsically safe.
When I hold something that's radioactive, it's kind of an indescribable feeling. It's kind of like when I'm with my girlfriend.
When I was 10 years old, that nuclear spark hit me. Whatever it may be, I really don't know what it was about nuclear science, but whatever it was that triggered that interest, it stuck. I went after that one with a passion.
I was about 10 when I got into nuclear science. That was when that spark hit me. It took a few years of research, but when I was 14, I produced my first nuclear-fusion reaction.
I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar in my garage, and I ended up meeting the President of the United States!
If you look at the scientists who really make a difference, they think boldly. They're not afraid to question what they see.
I've been focused on detecting nuclear terrorism at ports, in cargo containers, and I developed and built detectors that are extremely cheap and also very sensitive. My other big development is a system to produce medical isotopes that are injected into patients and used to diagnose and treat cancer.
I developed a counterterrorism device that's revolutionizing the way we detect nuclear materials.
I think there's something really poetic about using nuclear power to propel us to the stars, because the stars are giant fusion reactors. They're giant nuclear cauldrons in the sky.
As a kid, I was obsessed with space. Well, I was obsessed with nuclear science too, to a point, but before that, I was obsessed with space, and I was really excited about, you know, being an astronaut and designing rockets, which was something that was always exciting to me.
I don't mean to offend anybody, but I think that we get a lot of scientists now who are bent into a system, and we lose some of their boldness by that. Obviously, you have to learn the ropes, but I think it's important to do that without hammering out the radicalness that makes innovation happen.
These days, the scientific community accepts me. But getting to that point was tremendously hard, and I think it required a big perception shift. When people have dedicated their lives to something – and spent eight years in college – they just expect that a kid wouldn't be up to doing it.
My holy grail is fusion energy. Nuclear fusion has little to no radioactive waste. It's clean. It's very abundant. The fuels are everywhere. There are problems with fusion.
I really have become convinced that nuclear fusion is our energy future. It's so powerful. I mean, it is the power of the stars. If we could bring that down to the laboratory and to the power plant on Earth, that would be an incredible thing.