By Christine Peterson
NEWCASTLE, Wyo. (AP) – Most people give directions with streets and numbers. Conrad Farnsworth gives GPS coordinates and satellite imaging maps.
He’ll greet you in his driveway in his white lab coat, offering you a pair of safety goggles.
At least that’s how he greeted me.
On Jan. 17, Conrad wore an “Angry Nerds” T-shirt under his lab coat. Think Angry Birds, but with pocket protectors. We walked together to his dad’s metal shed, big enough hold both the truck his dad is restoring and Conrad’s machine, the one I’ve driven to his house to see. It’s the old next to the new – a 1972 Chevy next to a nuclear fusion reactor.
The reactor is a maze of steel, cable, tubes and boxes. Cords wrap around several shelves and stretch to a nearby table. When he plugs it in, it gurgles and groans. “This is my Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Reactor. It works on the property of inertial electrostatic confinement,” Conrad says.
Conrad, 18, talks fast – faster when he’s explaining this machine, a project he started at 16. Its plasma heart rises to a temperature of 600 million degrees. It glows bright blue and purple. It strips gas out of its outer electron shell.
Don’t worry if that makes no sense. Many science fair judges don’t get it either.
Conrad is the first person in Wyoming, and one of about 60 in the world, to achieve nuclear fusion. Only about 15 of those are in high school.
Conrad is a self-professed nerd. He’s not shy, doesn’t stutter and isn’t prone to tripping over his feet. He doesn’t act like he’s smarter than you, though he likely is. He just really likes science.
At 3, he took apart his mom’s sofa recliner. At 17, he started his own iPhone repair business. He’s not afraid to make mistakes, to blow something up or to start something on fire.
“I don’t think I’ve taught another student who individually made science seem as cool as Conrad has,” said Sharla Dowding, his Newcastle High School science teacher.
Friends tease him about his exploits. They expect the fire alarm to go off one day and to discover that Conrad is the source of the explosion. Classmates in his high school English class nominated him as one of the most interesting stories in Newcastle.1 2 3 next >>