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Book Review: Science Fair Season

Posted: Tue May 10, 2011 6:10 pm
by Tom Ligon
Last night I was browsing a recent edition of Science News, and found I had an indirect contribution.

The book reviews included a review of a new book called "Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win" by Judy Dutton. It includes the following:

"Dutton tells the stories of seven contestants in Intel ISEF 2009, plus five competitors from previous years whose stories have become the stuff of science fair legend.

"Among them are Kelydra Welcker, whose work on chemical contaminants in her West Virginia hometown landed her on an FBI terrorist watch list, and Taylor Wilson, who wheeled into the fair a nuclear fusion reactor he had built in a basement."

Taylor is, of course, a fusioneer and participant at, one of over a dozen kids who have build working Farnsworth Fusors inspired by the original Analog article. I believe he holds the record as the youngest person to join the Neutron Club, at 14.

darn, these kids make me proud and hopeful. ... udy_Dutton

Re: Book Review: Science Fair Season

Posted: Wed May 11, 2011 6:47 am
by Giorgio
Tom Ligon wrote:"Among them are Kelydra Welcker, whose work on chemical contaminants in her West Virginia hometown landed her on an FBI terrorist watch list"

Is sad when a country start considering his kids a threat to national security.... ... pont-plant

It was when a documentary film crew learned about her work that Welcker also earned some unforeseen notoriety. The crew shot footage of Welcker, including footage near the DuPont plant. That was when the FBI came knocking on her door with questions about espionage and homeland security. Welcker proclaimed her innocence and her intention to help DuPont, not harm the company.

Posted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:14 pm
by Tom Ligon
I will probably buy the book today. I'm a DuPont brat ... dad helped develop Cellophane. Their attitude toward safety was usually stellar, so the roots of that story intrigue me.

The kid who kludged up the solar heating system also appeals to me.

Posted: Wed May 11, 2011 12:38 pm
by Giorgio
If there is any interesting tidbits feel free to drop it here :)

Posted: Sat May 14, 2011 6:47 am
by Ivy Matt
Taylor Wilson won an Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50,000 for his project, "Countering Nuclear Terrorism: Novel Active and Passive Techniques for Detecting Nuclear Threats", at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2011. The official results are here. There is also an NPR interview with him in conjunction with a story on Judy Dutton's book. In addition to the $50,000 award, he also won the $5000 Best of Category Award in Physics and Astronomy, and a First Place Award of $3000.

Chad Ramey, another fusioneer and participant at, won a Third Place Award of $1000 in the same category for his project, "Effects of Cathode Composition on Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Reactors".

Posted: Tue May 17, 2011 1:39 am
by Tom Ligon
Thanks. I had never heard Taylor's voice. He certainly sounds self-confident. They're not just learning science, but presentation.

2003 saw a fusor by Michael Li win second place, $75000.

Thiago Olsen won all sorts of stuff, and the press coverage earned him a visit from state inspectors. They were mightly impressed, and blessed the project. Last I heard he was closing in on a PhD in Nuclear Engineering.

My part it this: the match that lit the fuse. These kids and about ten others to formally join the Neutron Club while in high school did so under the tutelage of and its predecessors, mostly without any action on my part. They did all the real work, and many of them make me look like the rank amateur I am. I've communicated with some of these kids and was fooled into thinking they were plasma physics pros.

Posted: Tue May 17, 2011 6:47 am
by Ivy Matt
I count five fusion-related projects at the 2011 ISEF, or six if I count one having to do with plasma, but not necessarily using a fusion device. That's among the projects that won some kind of award. I don't know if there were any fusion-related projects that didn't win any awards. Four of the five seem to have to do with IEC fusion. I assume Taylor Wilson's neutron detector is based on a Farnsworth fusor. In addition to the two winners I mentioned above:

Forrest Betton, Demitri Hopkins, and Eric Thomas (see here) won the $5000 Best of Category Award in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering for their project, “Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Using an Electrostatic Focusing Lens”. In addition, they won a First Place Award of $3000 in the same category. Based on the description of their device, however, I'm not certain if it's really an IEC design, as it supposedly fires a beam of hydrogen at a target of frozen deuterium, which sounds more like either beam-target or inertial confinement fusion. Note that their project used to be called "Electrostatic Inertial Confinement Fusion Using an Electrostatic Focusing Lens”.

The Coalition for Plasma Science gave out a First Place Award of $1000 to William Jack for his project, “D+D Fusion Reactions in an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Reactor”.

They also gave a First Place Award to Dylan Moore for his project, “Finding Harmonics in Plasma”. I don't know that he actually used a fusion reactor design for his project.

Also, Adam Bowman won a Third Place Award of $1000 in the Physics and Astronomy category for his project, “The Construction of a Small Dense Plasma Focus Using a Novel Experimental Setup”. In addition, Langdon Engineers & Scientific Services awarded him the Albert Langdon Swank Experimental Physics Award, a $5000 scholarship. I don't know for certain, but Adam Bowman may be the first high school student to build a plasma focus device and enter it in a science fair.