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Published: November 19. 2006 3:00AM

Oakland County

TEEN GOES NUCLEAR: He creates fusion in his Oakland Township home

November 19, 2006





Thiago Olson, 17, stands near his nuclear fusion reactor, which he calls "the Fusor," at home in Oakland Township on Friday. After more than two years and 1,000 hours of research, the Stoney Creek High School senior, with a little help from his dad, built the machine. (PATRICIA BECK/Detroit Free Press)

On the surface, Thiago Olson is like any typical teenager.

He's on the cross country and track teams at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills. He's a good-looking, clean-cut 17-year-old with a 3.75 grade point average, and he has his eyes fixed on the next big step: college.

But to his friends, Thiago is known as "the mad scientist."

In the basement of his parents' Oakland Township home, tucked away in an area most aren't privy to see, Thiago is exhausting his love of physics on a project that has taken him more than two years and 1,000 hours to research and build -- a large, intricate machine that , on a small scale, creates nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion -- when atoms are combined to create energy -- is "kind of like the holy grail of physics," he said.

In fact, on, the Stoney Creek senior is ranked as the 18th amateur in the world to create nuclear fusion. So, how does he do it?

Pointing to the steel chamber where all the magic happens, Thiago said on Friday that this piece of the puzzle serves as a vacuum. The air is sucked out and into a filter.

Then, deuterium gas -- a form of hydrogen -- is injected into the vacuum. About 40,000 volts of electricity are charged into the chamber from a piece of equipment taken from an old mammogram machine. As the machine runs, the atoms in the chamber are attracted to the center and soon -- ta da -- nuclear fusion.

Thiago said when that happens, a small intense ball of energy forms.

He first achieved fusion in September and has been perfecting the machine he built in his parents' garage ever since.

This year, Thiago was a semifinalist for the Siemens Foundation's National Research Competition. He plans to enter the Science and Engineering Fair of Metropolitan Detroit, which is in March, in hopes of qualifying to be in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in New Mexico in May.

To his mom and dad, he's still reminiscent of the 5-year-old who toiled over a kid-friendly chemistry set and, then at age 9, was able to change the battery in his older brother's car.

Now, in a small room in the basement, Thiago has set up a science lab -- where bottles marked "potassium hydroxide" and "methanol" sit on shelves and a worn, old book, titled "The Atomic Fingerprint: Neutron Activation Analysis" piled among others in the empty sink.

Thiago's mom, Natalice Olson, initially was leery of the project, even though the only real danger from the fusion machine is the high voltage and small amount of X-rays emitted through a glass window in the vacuum chamber -- through which Olson videotapes the fusion in action..

But, she wasn't really surprised, since he was always coming up with lofty ideas.

"Originally, he wanted to build a hyperbaric chamber," she said, adding that she promptly said no. But, when he came asking about the nuclear fusion machine, she relented.

"I think it was pretty brave that he could think that he was capable to do something so amazing," she said.

Thiago's dad, Mark Olson, helped with some of the construction and electrical work. To get all of the necessary parts, Thiago scoured the Internet, buying items on eBay and using his age to persuade manufacturers to give him discounts. The design of the model came from his own ideas and some suggestions from other science-lovers he met online.

Someday, he hopes to work for the federal government -- just like his grandfather, Clarence Olson, who designed tanks for the Department of Defense after World War II. Thiago, who is modest and humble about his accomplishment, said he knew from an early age what he would do for a living.

"I was always interested in science," he said. "It's always been my best subject in school."

But, his mom had other ideas.

"I thought he was going to be a cook," Natalice Olson said, "because he liked to mix things."

Contact GINA DAMRON at 248-351-3293 or at [email protected].

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LOGAN — A widespread belief among physicists nowadays is that modern science requires squadrons of scientists and wildly expensive equipment.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Spanish Fork High graduate Craig Wallace shows off his nuclear fusion reactor, based on the plans of Utah's own Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of TV.
Craig Wallace and Philo T. Farnsworth are putting the lie to all that.
Wallace, a baby-faced tennis player fresh out of Spanish Fork High School, had almost the entire physics faculty of Utah State University hovering (and arguing) over an apparatus he had cobbled together from parts salvaged from junk yards and charity drops.
The apparatus is nothing less than the sine qua non of modern science: a nuclear fusion reactor, based on the plans of Utah's own Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television.
The reactor sat on a table with an attached vacuum pump wheezing away. A television monitor showed what was inside: a glowing ball of gas surrounded by a metal helix.
The ball is, literally, a small sun, where an electric field forces deuteron ions (a form of hydrogen) to gather, bang together and occasionally fuse, spitting out a neutron each time fusion occurs.
"Here I am with this thing here," Wallace mused, looking at his surroundings. "Who'da thought?"
Wallace and Farnsworth are much alike. Both are (or were — Farnsworth died in 1971) tinkerers. While Wallace was in grade school, his mother got a flat tire while he was riding with her. He fixed it. For his part, Farnsworth began improvising electric motors at a young age. Both went on to bigger and better things.
"He was never motivated to take science," said Wallace's father, Allen Wallace. "It was really the tinkering that motivated him."
When Craig was a sophomore in high school, browsing the Internet he discovered that Farnsworth had come up with a way to create deuteron ion plasma, a prerequisite to fusion.
While it was not good for production of energy (the source of much embarrassment to the University of Utah in the cold fusion debacle in the late 1980s), Farnsworth's design did emit neutrons, a useful tool for commercial applications and scientific experimentation.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
USU freshman physics major Craig Wallace, center, demonstrates his experiment to USU professors John Raitt, left, and Farrell Edwards.
"He (Farnsworth) was after the Holy Grail of excess energy, but everyone agrees that it's mostly useful as a neutron generator," Allen Wallace said.
About 30 such devices exist around the country, owned by such entities as Los Alamos National Laboratories, NASA and universities. ("I bet I'm the only high school student that has one," Craig Wallace said.)
Looking at Farnsworth's plans for the first time, Craig and his father both had the same thought: Now there's a science project.
They set to work. They found a neutron detector in an Idaho Falls scrap metal yard. Craig built a neutron modulator (which slows down the emitted neutrons so they can be detected) out of a few hundred spare CDs. They found a broken turbo molecular pump lying forgotten at Deseret Industries.
Too poor to buy pricey deuterium gas, Craig bought a container of deuterium oxide, or heavy water, for 20 bucks and came up with a way to make it a gas and get rid of the accompanying oxygen by passing it over heated magnesium filings.
Not bad for a backyard amateur who considered himself more mechanic than scientist.
"I teased him that he was now officially a science geek," Allen Wallace said.
One professor Friday stood nervously away from Wallace's reactor — which is notably free from any shielding — but he needn't have worried: Wallace's detector measures 36 neutrons per minute just in background radiation from space, and the device's usual output adds only four neutrons per minute. People in airplanes absorb much more than that.
It took two years of gathering materials and six months of assembly, but the final product actually, incongruously, works.

Posted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 11:52 am

OK, so we shouldn't be impressed with 17 yo that built a working fusion generator in his basement. I'm equally impressed that a 17 year old built a working plasma generator in his basement. I'm impressed with this young man's self discipline, and dedication to accomplish either of those two feats.

Whether or not the reporter had the capacity to correctly identify it is irrelevant The real story here is of a young American student with a real interest in science, without requiring the word fiction after it, who apparently has an attention span greater than 30 seconds.

In a society where everyone’s children are "special and above average", it's nice to read a story about an authentic special kid.

By the way. You people say Drudge like it's a bad thing. Ya, he's terrible for compiling lists of links to every major English news service in the world, grouping subject related links together, and presenting it all with the least amount of bias (according to a study done by the center-left leaning Brookings Institute - " A Measure of Media Bias by Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo, September 2003") of any major news and information source. Apparently that last part is the most offensive act of all....

Posted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:42 am

95% of DrudgeReport is linking other media stories. I think it is fair to assume that he links to them because he thinks they are significant stories, but I think you are making assumptions about his motiviations of why he feels the stories are interesting or significant. I would think that you would love Matt because his cynicism of media equals or perhaps surpasses yours. IMHO (and I think he has suggested so when I have heard him), many of his linked stories are as much to ridicule and spoof the incompetence of the establishment media. His art is in just changing your view perspective of the establishment media.

And, although a Buckeye fan (who resides in Michigan). I think OSU is clearly the better team, BUT, I certainly don't think that a rematch would be guaranteed to have the same results.

Posted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:40 am

For those complaining about Drudge Report's use of Headlines,
little tip; They just reprint the headlines used in the 'news' articles and link to the source. If you have a beef with the wording of the headline you have a beef with the originator of the headline.

Its sort of like, "Here's whats in the news;" with a list of the headlines for today from all the news sources and links to the articles. You decide for yourself what it means.

Posted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:34 am

Give the kid a break. Confused He could be playing Playstation 3. Exclamation Not all news is going to be accurate you just take most news this day with a grain of salt and sift through it. I would say, it got you to read the article and it must have been worthy of your time. Again give the kid a break and don't be so critical.

Posted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:05 am

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