Teen Makes Nuclear Fusion Reactor In Dad’s Shed


They don’t worry about him. He’s participated in all-state choir, plays the trombone, qualified for state in swimming and goes to church regularly.

“There were a lot of mishaps, but they brought him to where he is now,” Jamie Farnsworth said.

Teenage Fusioneer
Conrad’s real coup is the fusion reactor.

He stumbled onto the idea in seventh grade. Fusion sounded fascinating, and the father of fusion, Philo T. Farnsworth, shared his last name.

But he didn’t think nuclear fusion was for middle schoolers. At 13, he pigeonholed the project.

In ninth grade, he wanted to test the effects of microwave radiation on fruit flies. He failed badly, finishing dead last in the science fair. Each category’s top three projects automatically earned a trip to the state fair, and his category only had three projects entered.

But his was so bad, judges wouldn’t advance it.

The embarrassment reignited his fascination with fusion. He vowed to prove himself to the local science community.

Fusion is the smashing of nuclei. If harnessed, it has the potential for clean, incredible power. But, to date, no one has created fusion that produces more energy than it consumes.

Fusion doesn’t require uranium or produce radioactive byproducts like fission does, and it’s legal for a teenager to make in his dad’s garage.

Members of the international amateur fusion community helped direct Conrad. They answered questions and lent him parts. In return, he’s mailed parts to other budding amateurs.

A YouTube video he filmed at 10:45 p.m. Dec. 1, 2011, documented the moment he became a teenage fusioneer. He’s in his bathrobe and sounds just a little delirious after several late nights. He explains his accomplishment and shows a machine’s reading proving it worked. Even if he hadn’t shown the evidence, a commenter posted on the video, Conrad’s enthusiasm was proof enough.

He was 17 and it was just days before the science fair. The fusion reactor took first at regionals and at state. He later went to Maryland and San Diego as part of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. The fruit fly debacle became a distant memory.

His machine will likely never be used for energy production. It’s too inefficient. It could, however, be used to produce cancer-fighting isotopes, he said. He wants to work in fusion because he believes it can, and will, be the answer to the world’s energy, healthcare, humanitarian and climate problems.

His dad tells him not to forget his roots. Tom Farnsworth made his money in oil. That money bought the shed where Conrad built his reactor and paid for the tools he used to make its parts.

“All I tell him is that if he invents something that does away with fossil fuels, it will be on him to take care of his mom and I,” Tom Farnsworth said. Conrad’s heard it before. He laughs and keeps working.

He’s learning to operate on a safety-first basis. He wears safety goggles and says things like “no dose is a safe dose.” But accidents still happen.

At 2 a.m. several weeks ago, he brushed up against the wrong part. One thousand volts shot down his right side.

“It nearly knocked me on my hiney.”

He’s still working to make the machine more efficient, if it doesn’t kill him first.

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Posted by on Mar 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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