Taylor’s accomplishments have earned him a number of awards and recognitions, the most notable is his recent appointment as Thiel Fellow. In fact, Taylor’s fame has spread so much that even current President Barack Obama was astonished seeing the device Taylor made and even told him, “You may be working for me soon.” Taylor was a winner at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in its Physics and Astronomy Category. He was also named Intel Young Scientist for his amazing feats in building his own nuclear reactor and detector.
Taylor’s passion for what he does can be described as extraordinary. When Taylor set his sights in mastering nuclear physics, he was unstoppable. Everyone who met Taylor saw him as one determined person—someone who gives his all in whatever he does. Coleen Harsin, Taylor’s teacher at Davidson Academy, said of him:
"Taylor's tenure at the academy has been a definite wild ride at times. He's very passionate about his subject area. It's rare to see a student who is that consumed by their interests, such that he lives and breathes nuclear physics at all times."
One of the things that made Taylor very successful in his career as an inventor is his extraordinary ability to think outside the box. As a self-taught nuclear physicist, Taylor loves to look beyond the horizon and expand the limits of what he can achieve. Ronald Phaneuf, a well-known atomic physicist, says of Taylor:
"One of his advantages is that he thinks outside the box. His thinking is less conventional. If you're trained as a discipline, you tend to adopt, most people at least, adopt at conventional thinking. Taylor was essentially self-educated in nuclear physics. So he could see things that maybe other people were blind to."
Taylor understands the kind of power that he holds in his hands, and this is actually what makes him amazing—he works to use it for something good. The thing that drove Taylor to invent a more efficient and cheaper radiation detector was the realization of how powerful nuclear power is. Doctor Sanjay Gupta, a nuclear physicist, says of Taylor:
"Taylor Wilson dreams of solving the world's energy problems, fighting nuclear terrorism and bringing cancer treatment to the furthest reaches of the planet. He's used his passion of physics to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. As you might imagine, he's getting the attention of some of the world's top minds. None of them think Taylor Wilson's dreams are fantasy."
With all the success that Taylor has achieved, he never took all the glory. Taylor often says that whatever he has now become, he owes to his supportive family. Taylor knows and firmly believes that without the people who helped him, he would never be where he is today. His family and friends have also become a huge motivating factor for Taylor to utilize nuclear energy for good. In an interview made with Taylor, he said:
"I think the people in my life are completely responsible for my success. It's kind of two parts to this equation. It's, you know, kind of raw intellect and passion really, but also having the network of support. I have that whether it be my parents or the people at the university working. Working with Bill and Ron has been one of most incredible experiences of my life. I mean, they've almost become best friends and family to a point more than just a mentor or professorial figure. So they really became an integral part of my life. I'm really thankful for, you know, the opportunities that they've provided me."
An Eager Scientist
Taylor was born in Texarkana, Arizona on 7 May 1994. Taylor is one of two children of Kenneth Wilson, a former football player who works at a Coca-Cola bottling plant, and Tiffany Wilson, who is a yoga instructor. Taylor has a brother named Joey.
Taylor’s interest in science and technology can very well be traced back to his early childhood. What is extraordinary about it is, neither of Taylor’s parents were scientifically inclined, nor did they exhibit interest in the sciences. But it was different for the young Taylor—as early as three or four years old, Taylor had always been fascinated with the world of science, starting with construction. In an interview made with the Wilson family, Tiffany Wilson, Taylor’s mom, said of him:
"We have no science in our family at all of kid people all their lives how did you end up with these kids. I said, well, it's all the health foods I fed them growing up, you know, teasing. He kind of started out just kind of, you know, timid and shy and just took everything in and then, you know, just blossomed. Any interest he had, he just went crazy with it."
While other kids would play with toys, Taylor would be playing with real traffic cones and construction materials. In fact, there was one instance when Taylor’s parents brought him to a toy store, that he retorted and said, “No! I want a real one.” When Taylor was four years old, he donned a fluorescent orange vest and a hard hat and started directing traffic in front of their house.
Most parents at this point would try to divert their son’s interests to something that would suit a child’s, but not Kenneth and Tiffany. They saw the potential that the young Taylor had and instead of putting it out, further encouraged Taylor to become what he wanted to be. In fact, during Taylor’s fifth birthday, Kenneth contacted a friend of his who worked at a construction site and had a crane delivered at their house so that Taylor and his friends could sit on the lap of the operator and play with the controls and guide the boom above the houses in the neighbourhood.
At school, Taylor was known to be a very science-oriented student. Not only was he very bright and intelligent, but he also loved to experiment with things. Taylor was often praised by his teachers for being excellent in his subjects.
The September 11 terrorist attacks affected Taylor as much as it did other Americans; even though he was only seven years old at that time. As Taylor became more serious in his studies, he learned about the terrible danger posed by a nuclear attack. In an interview held with him many years later, he said:
"As I got older and more invested in my studies, in nuclear science, I started to realize how much more devastating a nuclear attack would be. You would kill hundreds of thousands of people or more compared to the thousands of people that were killed by the aircraft attacks.And I realize how big a threat this was that we had these, you know, basically open borders to nuclear terrorists and nuclear proliferators. I started to realize that maybe I could do something about this."
Early Interest in Nuclear Fusion
As he reached his early teenage years, Taylor’s interest began to shift from construction to chemistry. When he was ten years old, Taylor hung a periodic table of elements at the wall of his room, and within a week, memorized all the atomic numbers, masses and melting points of each element in the table. During that year’s thanksgiving feast, Taylor dressed in a lab coat and asked if he could draw a blood sample from everyone for his “genetic experiments,” to which everyone agreed.
The following year’s summer, Taylor invited his family and friends to the family’s backyard and made a sugar and potassium nitrate mixture that he discovered in the garage. While everyone was expecting a firecracker’s bang after Taylor lit the fuse, he overdid himself and caused a thunderous blast that brought a small mushroom cloud to rise from the explosion.
Taylor’s interest in science simply grew further. By the time he was 11 years old, Taylor began to study more and more about nuclear sciences after his grandmother bought him a book entitled “The Radioactive Boy Scout,” a story about a young teenager named David Hahn who, like Taylor, was smart enough to be ‘dangerous.’ There came a point when David became bored of just studying and wanted to apply everything he knew about nuclear physics, but his parents—who were too concerned about the young man’s activities—tried to prevent him from going further into his endeavors.
This is where Taylor was different from David. While David’s parents tried to steer his interests away from what he really wanted to do, Taylor’s parents did the opposite. Of course, initially, they were quite concerned as to how Taylor’s interests would affect his life, but after seeing how Taylor’s interest in nuclear physics was driven by a desire to produce something good out of it, they further encouraged Taylor to pursue his dreams. Tiffany later recalled this in an interview:
"He started out with construction and learned every name of every tractor and from that went to rockets and learned all the rockets. His other love later on became blowing things up and making his own fireworks. He had some pretty big fire balls. It's pretty scary for a while until we finally figured out he knew what he was doing and it was safe."
Beginning with a survey of radioactive materials, Taylor went on to experiment on radioactivity. He borrowed Geiger counters and prospected for radioactive materials with the help of his dad. By the time he reached 14 years old, Taylor had learned so much that he declared to his astonished parents that he would be building his own nuclear reactor at their garage. Initially, both Kenneth and Tiffany had some concerns about the safety of the device that Taylor was going to build but after some persuasion they reluctantly allowed him to turn their garage into a laboratory.
It was only up for Taylor from that time on. When Taylor revealed his invention to the public, he drove the world of science crazy. Taylor started to receive numerous invitations to speak in various scientific conferences and events, and discuss his project to them.
In 2011, Taylor invented his own radiation detector and entered the device in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where he faced more than 1500 competitors and won, receiving $50,000.00. The project, entitled “Countering Nuclear Terrorism: Novel Active and Passive Techniques for Detecting Nuclear Threats,” won in a number of categories including the Physics and Astronomy Category. The device also earned Taylor the Intel Young Scientist Award. In an interview, Taylor described his invention:
"I've developed a couple systems for counter terrorism applications for scanning primarily things like cargo containers for nuclear weapons. One of the systems actually uses water. They're as sensitive, if not more sensitive, than the pre-existing helium three detectors but in a small, small fraction of the cost."
Taylor Shares His Nuclear Reactor Invention at TED
Taylor has been invited to speak in TED Conferences since 2012, where he discussed building of his first nuclear reactor, as well as presenting his plans for building a small underground nuclear fission reactor. Aside from this, Taylor also heavily invests in researching nuclear fission, a technology he believes would be of great benefit to the field of nuclear studies. Taylor says of this technology in an interview:
"There's a joke in fusion energy research that fusion is always 30 years away and it always will be. But I hope I can make it this 30 years and I think I can. And 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, it would be an incredible thing."
Currently, Taylor lives in Reno, Nevada (where they transferred when Taylor was still a young teenager) and studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Davidson Academy of Nevada. A top-notch student and a genius by nature, Taylor continues to look not just for ways of making low-cost and efficient energy, but also does research to fully utilize nuclear power into the field of medicine and save many lives.
Throughout his career, Taylor has tried and failed many times, yet he has never once backed down from pursuing what he wants to do with his life. Taylor’s story continues to be a great inspiration that if we believe, all things are possible. Taylor says in an interview:
"I get, you know, tons of fan mail from kids all over the world. Knowing kind of I'm an inspiration to them is the most gratifying experience. I get the question a lot, how can I do what you did? How can I make a difference? Part of that is not being afraid to fail. Go take a problem. Go crack at it for a few years. If you fail, great you've learned a lot. If you don't fail, maybe you could be like me. Maybe you can change the world."
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Won First Place at the Physics and Astronomy Category in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
- 2011: Received the Best of Category Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
- 2011: Received the Intel Young Scientist Award
- 2012: Named a Thiel Fellow