Popular Science contributing editor Clynes (Music Festivals From Bach to Blues: A Travellers Guide, 1996, etc.) uses the story of Taylor Wilson—who, at age 14, became “one of only thirty-two individuals on the planet to build a working fusion reactor, a miniature sun on Earth”—to illustrate the potential for improving our educational system.
“What does it take to identify and develop the raw material of talent and turn it into exceptional accomplishment? How do we parent and educate extraordinarily determined and intelligent children and help them reach their potential?” These are the questions the author seeks to answer in this enlightening book. Clynes first learned about Taylor in 2010 when he was interviewing members of a small community of “nuclear physics enthusiasts.” At the time, Taylor was attending the Davidson Academy, an experimental secondary school in Reno that offered students the opportunity to attend classes at the University of Nevada–Reno. Taylor enrolled in physics seminars and had successfully completed a project to build a tabletop fusion reactor that allowed him to study the properties of different materials. The family had moved to Reno so that Taylor could take advantage of the Davidson opportunity. His father was a successful entrepreneur who had fostered Taylor's developing interest in science, beginning at age 6, with his fascination with rocket propulsion. Although he had no technical training himself, Wilson enlisted the help of more knowledgeable friends from the community to help his son safely pursue experiments with rockets. Clynes chronicles Taylor's development since their first meeting, during which time he invented a prototype for a “hundred-thousand-dollar tabletop nuclear fusion device that could produce medical isotopes as precisely as the multimillion-dollar cyclotron or linear accelerator facilities could,” as well as a highly sensitive, low-dose device for identifying nuclear terrorists.
Clynes makes a persuasive case for allowing gifted children the freedom and resources to pursue their interests.