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Education Science

WY Teen Cut From Science Fair For Entering Too Many 204

Posted by timothy
from the you-can't-science-in-here-this-is-the-science-room dept.
An anonymous reader writes " A Wyoming high school student who built a nuclear reactor in his dad's garage was disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair this month on a technicality.' His crime: competing in too many science fairs."
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WY Teen Cut From Science Fair For Entering Too Many

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  • How? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:25PM (#43883489)

    I've heard of several teens building nuclear reactors in their garages it seems. How are they accomplishing this, when foreign states seem to have such difficulty?

    • Re:How? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by istartedi (132515) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:33PM (#43883575) Journal

      Almost anything is a nuclear reactor if you play with the definition. There are isotopes decaying in my thumb right now. It's a nuclear reactor. I seriously doubt these things are producing net energy beyond curiosity wattage. You can probably do some interesting betavoltaic stuff that would generate power at the cost of $50/milliwatt. If you tried to scale it up and generate any significant power, the Feds would eventually find you... probably. I've often wondered if anybody has set one up for "off grid" power. I think there's a 50-50 chance that one back-woods dude is powering his cabin on a huge parcel of land somwhere where it woudln't attract attention. Dangerous as all get-out though. It's so much easier just to use wood stoves, solar panels, etc.

      • by Lehk228 (705449) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @01:26PM (#43883913) Journal
        a wood fired stirling engine can be power generation, water pump for a well, heat for home, heat for hot water, grill for cooking and oven for cooking all at once. and it won't kill you and you can grow your own fuel
      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Saturday June 01, 2013 @01:34PM (#43883971) Journal

        Some lighthouses in Russia are powered by RITEGs about the size of a large fridge...good luck collecting enough nuclear material to build such a thing though.

        • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @05:59PM (#43885507) Homepage

          Some lighthouses in Russia are powered by RITEGs about the size of a large fridge...good luck collecting enough nuclear material to build such a thing though.

          Yup, if you google around you can find stories about bad things that have happened to people who have tried to take such things apart not realizing what they are. I hadn't heard about lighthouses, but I have heard about them being used for radio beacons (more or less the same thing at a different wavelength and rate of "rotation").

      • Bad comparision (Score:3, Informative)

        by nuckfuts (690967) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @02:36PM (#43884371)

        Almost anything is a nuclear reactor if you play with the definition. There are isotopes decaying in my thumb right now. It's a nuclear reactor.

        But it's not a fusion reactor. If you want to trivialize what the kid did, at least compare apples to apples.

        • by meerling (1487879) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @03:17PM (#43884607)
          The article stated FUSION reactor, not FISSION reactor.
          All the nuclear reactors and batteries you people are talking about are FISSION reactors.
          You know, Uranium or Plutonium or some other radioactive material breaking down in to lighter elements.
          A FUSION reactor takes light elements, like hydrogen or helium and fuses them into heavier elements like helium or lithium, etc.

          Fusion is currently only experimental. I wonder if the article got it wrong and he was actually doing fission, but fissionable materials tend to make the feds go ballistic, so who knows. (Other than the kid.)
          • Re:Bad comparision (Score:5, Informative)

            by jythie (914043) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:01PM (#43884825)
            Nope, fusion is right. If I recall correctly he built a 'fusor', a type of fusion reactor that does not even come close to producing more energy then you put in, but does preform the actual reaction. Quite a few people have been building them as hobby projects, though I believe they are also being looked into as a way of producing medically useful isotopes.
          • by nuckfuts (690967) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:07PM (#43884841)
            I don't understand why you're replying to my post telling me that the article is about a fusion reactor. That is precisely the point I was making. Perhaps you meant to reply to the parent?
          • by tragedy (27079) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @11:10PM (#43886857)

            Actually, most of the things people are talking about here aren't nuclear reactors at all. A nuclear reactor has to, by design, promote a nuclear reaction. Just letting a bunch of nuclear material decay at its natural rate such as in an RTG isn't a reactor.

            As for fusion currently being only experimental. Anything approaching break-even is experimental. All kinds of fusors, however, have been around for years. The Farnsworth Fusor is about 50 years old and is a pretty proven technology, it just doesn't produce net positive power.

            • by tibit (1762298) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @11:22PM (#43886901)

              Having a nuclear fusion reaction, in other words a nuclear synthesis reaction, is orthogonal to having break even energy production.

              • by tragedy (27079) on Sunday June 02, 2013 @12:06AM (#43887023)

                Having a nuclear fusion reaction, in other words a nuclear synthesis reaction, is orthogonal to having break even energy production.

                Sorry, why would that be? At the level of individual collisions, a collision producing a fusion reaction is pretty much guaranteed to be break even (if there's more energy in the collision than would be released by the fusion it's probably too energetic to produce fusion). If fusion doesn't occur, the collision is elastic, and, depending on the setup, the same energy can end up in another (or a billion other) collisions, one of which may produce fusion. The basic idea behind promoting fusion is creating a situation where there are a sufficient number of collisions, with sufficient energy, to make fusion statistically likely before the energy diffuses away. Stars achieve this with gravitational confinement and they produce break even fusion. Laser ignition and Farnsworth Fusors and sonoluminescence try to accomplish this with intense, concentrated energy and, typically, are not break even (although I think laser ignition has managed to achieve this in some experiments now). Other ideas like magnetic confinement try to copy stars by creating intense pressure and heat and insulating it so that the same energy is used over and over and over to generate collisions.

                In any case, there are clearly methods that produce nuclear fusion reactions, in other words nuclear synthesis reactions that are break even and others that are not breakeven. Given that both types exist, it seems odd to claim that that nuclear fusion reactions are orthogonal to break even energy production.

      • by firex726 (1188453) <firex726@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Saturday June 01, 2013 @02:48PM (#43884425)

        Wasn't there a time that the americium in smoke alarms was detachable and someone made a productive reactor from collecting the material from like 1000 smoke alarms?

    • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:34PM (#43883579)

      I've heard of several teens building nuclear reactors in their garages it seems. How are they accomplishing this, when foreign states seem to have such difficulty?

      Farnsworth Fusors are fusion reactors that aren't net energy positive. They're just fascinating.

      The kids who build fission reactors aren't building them on a large enough scale to risk harm to anyone but themselves. By way of analogy, anyone can make a model rocket engine out of firecrackers, at the risk of blowing their fingers off. Making a solid rocket engine that can boost something into orbit an entirely different story.

    • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:36PM (#43883601)
      I assume because it's on such a tiny scale; the fusion reaction is probably microscopic and not practical. As in you pump in a huge amount of energy and resources and barely get a detectable signal out. Not to downplay making and running such a contraption; that takes some serious talent to pull off.
      • by tragedy (27079) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @11:12PM (#43886865)

        It produces neutrons. There are practical uses in all sorts of fields.

    • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @01:03PM (#43883779)

      This is a nuclear fusion reactor, not a fission one. A Farnsworth fusor [wikipedia.org] is relatively easy to build.

    • by camperdave (969942) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @01:41PM (#43884033) Journal

      How are they accomplishing this, when foreign states seem to have such difficulty?

      Two different definitions of nuclear reactor. The teens are not building nuclear reactors in the nuclear power plant sense - a sustained, large scale reaction with a net energy release. They are building reactors in the technical sense - a device that can produce nuclear reactions. They're not worried about sustaining a reaction, or about net energy production, or about industrial scale production. They're just worried about did a reaction happen or not.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @01:44PM (#43884047)

      The "Nuclear Boy Scout" did it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn [wikipedia.org]

      He used smoke detectors for fuel.

    • by lightknight (213164) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @03:00PM (#43884507) Homepage

      Thermonuclear reactors using some isotope of Uranium / Plutonium != All versions of nuclear reactors, in much the same way as 747s using a series of jet engines != All vehicles using engines (of some design).

      But it does require some knowledge of physics to know how common something can qualify for the phrase 'nuclear reactor,' and it does take some browsing / reading to know of the various versions that have been used / are used today.

  • All the better.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hans Lehmann (571625) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:25PM (#43883491)
    He won't lose any high school credit because he wasn't able to compete in his nth science fair. But just think how good his resume after college will read when it says that he was disqualified because he entered too many science fairs in high school.
    • by Darinbob (1142669) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @07:57PM (#43886123)

      I don't think this is a big deal. After all I have been banned from entering beauty contests, including the rejection letter that read "geez, give it a rest already!"

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:29PM (#43883523) Journal

    People who take an "unusual" interest in knowing things are dangerous.

  • by memnock (466995) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:30PM (#43883537)

    ... if the faculty could figure how to get this kid to coach others.

    Regardless, it does seem like he'll have a bright future if he's that motivated.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:34PM (#43883581)

    But hey, he's wearing a lab coat. Can't he go on TV to sell Viagra?

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:36PM (#43883595)

    The Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor [wikipedia.org] is decades old, relatively easy to build (I know someone who built one in his garage), available commercially (as a neutron source) and is generally considered to be not a candidate for fusion power.

    Given that the name of the student is Conrad Farnsworth, I have to wonder if there is a family connection, but the article does not go into that.

  • by Skiron (735617) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:40PM (#43883621) Homepage

    I made a stink bomb in chemistry class, and not only did I get banned, I also got the black plimsoll across my backside! (c. 1973).

  • by pipingguy (566974) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:46PM (#43883659) Homepage
    "He is one of only 15 high school students in the world to successfully achieve fusion."

    Really? Wow.

    I predict many job offers for this individual.
  • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @12:51PM (#43883689) Homepage

    The summary makes it look like he is being held back by bureaucracy, while he's really just using it. He entered ONE project in many fairs. Each of these fairs were lateral contests in a larger competition. Effectively he entered multiple times in the over-all road to the International Fair.

    What he did would be like a NCAA team losing in March Madness multiple times, only to move position in the bracket, to try again on each defeat. Sorry, I couldn't think of a car analogy.

    The kid was taking the same project to different fairs after failing to qualify. Nothing is stopping him from doing Science. He was more interested in being successful. He wasn't doing this so he could "do more science". He was doing it so he could basically enter more times, giving him an unfair advantage. Say I ran a science fair for a bunch of inner city kids. They worked really hard on their projects. When time for judging comes up, some AP, college-bound kid with a rich ( anything white-collar, to these inner city kids) dad comes in with his garage-built project. He didn't qualify in his home town, but blows these kids out of the water. I would be livid.

    However, by seeing the way he plays ball, we know he will fit right in in Academia.

  • Nooo (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 01, 2013 @03:16PM (#43884599)

    "disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair"

    I'll show you! ...I'LL SHOW YOU ALL!!!!!

    Muahahahahaha...

  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:07PM (#43884843)

    I'd be very interested to know a) why this kid didn't advance in his home state and b) why other kids did? Was the judging really objective or was there some bias somewhere? Did the judges base their decision on criteria other than real science? I don't think we've heard the whole story here.

    But let's consider this: you write a research paper and submit it to one peer-review journal. They reject it. Does that mean you shouldn't be allowed to submit it to other journals? What if it turns out that your paper totally blows away popular theory and the rejection was simply a case of the reviewers sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling "lalalalalala...we're not listening to you..."?

    For my own part, I do understand what it means to get screwed because somebody gamed the system. In my senior year in undergrad engineering, I was up for best senior project. A fellow student also entered and won. Her secret weapon turned out to be the fact that her boyfriend, who was a student at MIT with all the resources of such a place at his fingertips, was the one who did all the work. Everyone in the class told me that I got screwed. Was I pissed? Sure. The bitch got a special piece of paper at graduation. Where is she now? Who knows. Me, I started two successful businesses. The real lesson here is not to allow someone else determine your fate. Do your own thing and the market will decide if your efforts should be rewarded. Of course I say this and yet people make a crapload of money on shamwows. Doing your own thing doesn't necessarily mean it must be technically/scientifically brilliant.

  • by rueger (210566) * on Saturday June 01, 2013 @06:31PM (#43885659) Homepage
    disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair this month on a technicality.'

    It wasn't a "technicality." It was a rule, and even a fairly reasonable one.

    Students are only allowed to compete in one qualifying regional fair, and then another larger qualifying fair such as a state fair, said Michele Glidden, director of science and education programs for the Society for Science and the Public, the organization that runs the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The rule is to keep students from jumping from one qualifying fair to another until he or she is finally allowed to move on, she said.

    So he was disqualified for not following the rules, then tried to get around that by playing the ever-popular "Duh, I didn't know the rules..." card. The one that always works with police and courts. Any fault lies with him, his parents, or his advisors. One of them should have had the sense to check it out. [societyforscience.org]

    • by chrismcb (983081) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @07:44PM (#43886055) Homepage
      You do know what a "technicality" is, don't you?
      Yes it is a rule, but he didn't break the spirit of the rule. He attended two events. Just not in the order the rule says. The rule doesn't even say you have to qualify in both events. He competing in a qualifying regional fair, and he competed in a qualifying state fair... he just didn't do the "and then" part.
  • Math is hard (Score:4, Informative)

    by chrismcb (983081) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @07:48PM (#43886073) Homepage
    Both TFS and TFA make it sound like the kid competed in LOTS of events, and kept entering until he won. He did no such thing. He competed in two events. One a regional, the other a state. Just like the rules said he could. He just entered the state one first. Because he qualified from the regional to the international, it doesn't even sound like it is a case of regional qualifies for state which qualifies for international. Especially since he went straight to the state, and then qualified from the regional. The rule allows for two fairs, he went to two fairs. It just happened that one of the regional fairs, was in a different state (yet closer than apparently regional in his home state)
    If you can qualify for the international straight from a regional, then the rule is stupid.
  • by Virtucon (127420) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @10:13PM (#43886649)

    Doomsday device. It's a weird coincidence that his name is Farnsworth. Now it would be really weird if it were Wernstrom.

The test of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Aldo Leopold

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