Saturday, November 07, 2015

Taylor Wilson, 21, proposes a clean energy plan, and it might really work; the importance of "Ayn Rand's prodigies"

The “science fair” (so to speak) work on clean energy by Taylor Wilson, now 21, and building a company in Reno, NV, is quite stunning.  Here is “Taylor’s Nuke Site”, link.

Here is an NBC News summary  from one year, with Brian Williams (yes, that’s ironic).

Taylor, born and originally raised in Arkansas, built a nuclear fusion (note the word – eventually he made a “star”) in his garage at age 14.  But now he proposed technology to make small, locally managed fission (an “older” concept) nuclear power reactors with innovative and surprisingly simple safety features, Ted Talk here (from 2013).  His idea would certainly add on to the "Pickens Plan" to use natural gas.  It also might help "decentralize" existing power grid segments and make them less susceptible to cascading damage from cyberattacks (as Ted Koppel discusses in his book "Lights Out").   His writing and vocal style of speaking is very articulate and straightforward (his speech voice sounds just like that of composer-pianist Timo Andres – and music, math and science  -- and even chess -- so often go together at the genetic level).  The best recent article may be in the Guardian, here. Thomas Clynes has a book about him "The Boy Who Played with Fusion."

He also has proposed or develop innovations to making anti-cancer isotopes more cheaply (hint, recall Jack Andraka’s new test), and cheaper and simpler ways to check incoming cargo for nuclear material, seriously being reviewed for implementation by Homeland Security.

I’ll mention that there’s a new story about Andraka (now a “freshman” at Stanford) in the Wall Street Journal, here.  
I have reason to recall my own high school science fair projects.  In 10th Grade (1959) there was aodel of the human digestive tract.  In 12th, I proposed chemical experiments replacing carbon with silicon.  I built something in the workshop that worked minimally but I didn’t get far with it.  But at the “Science Honor Society Initiation” in my own basement December 9, 1960, another student spoke about “lysing leucocytes” and gave a talk that, in retrospect, was prescient to what would happen with AIDS and HIV 25 years later (when I would be living in Dallas).

It’s extremely rare for science fair work to rise to this level of commercial success.  I can wonder why I didn’t do as well, and say it’s statistical, or earlier technology, but I also lacked facility in working with my hands – a matter of “proper habits” as my moralistic father used to say.  I’ll come back to this later.

Popular Science reports that Wilson has even possessed yellowcake (story), the subject of Afred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (Movies blog Dec. 20, 2009).  Does the ability to possess a radioactive substance create an implicit security threat (if stolen by an intruder)?

It’s reported that Wilson was invited to “skip college” to start his companies.  Of course. we recall that Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook.

Anyway, Wilson’s work sounds really important – clean energy – right after Obama scratches the Keystone.  In fact, let’s not forget that Jack Andraka’s older brother, Luke (now at Virginia Tech) did important work on Acid Mine Damage (write-up )  The media attention to his younger brother Jack, and to Taylor, have obscured the importance of his work. Luke’s project would build on the mountaintop removal issue that I’ve covered here.  "Cool Hand" Luke's Facebook page actually has a picture of him standing in a coal mine tunnel with hard hat.

Today’s science (and Internet) prodigies seem to come right out of Ayn Rand’s novels (if not clandestine “aliens” like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent).  But they do raise a lot of questions for the rest of us, about interdependence, inequality, and resilience.  More about that to come.

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