16-Year-Old Whiz Kid Hopes to Become First African-American Student to Build Nuclear Reactor

Steven Udotong was accepted into the Yale Young Global Scholar Program, which allowed him to travel to Singapore for an engineering workshop. Image courtesy of Steven Udotong/GoFundMe

As the U.S. scrambles to find reliable sources of alternative energy, this 16-year-old student from South Jersey is working on an invention he hopes will put us one step closer to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly future.

Steven Udotong, a junior at Cinnaminson High School in southern New Jersey, is looking to become the first Black student to engineer a nuclear fusor, a machine that uses “electricity to heat charged atoms to a point where nuclear fusion can occur.” Nuclear energy has generally gotten a bad rap, but Udotong is out to prove that it actually is a great source of alternative energy.

“I grew curious after we flew by the topic of nuclear energy in my chemistry class last year,” the budding engineer said during an interview with his older brother Emmanuel, a computer science major at Princeton University that was later posted on Jopwell’s digital magazine “The Well.” “I decided to do more research and I soon learned that I could actually make a nuclear fusor. That sparked my interest.”

“I want people to know that there are alternate methods for obtaining power and energy,” Udotong continued. “I want to examine more clean-energy products and stop fearing the word ‘nuclear.’ Nuclear energy is a lot safer than people think.”

To jumpstart his efforts in building the reactor, Udotong launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for supplies. The South Jersey teenager has since exceeded his $1,500 goal, as over 70 donors have contributed to his cause in just a month.

“The general public is not taking action, but I will,” his GoFundMe page reads.

This past summer, Udotong was accepted into the Yale Young Global Scholar Program, which allowed him to attend an engineering workshop at the university’s Singapore campus. As one of three students from New Jersey chosen to attend, the young teen said he soon realized he would be the first African-American student to build a nuclear reactor.

“I’m motivated knowing I’m proof that there are many ways for minorities to pursue success,” Udotong said. “Sports and music are not the only avenues for us. There’s room for us. Rather, there’s a need for us to participate in academia, business, art, law, medicine and, yes, nuclear energy.”

“I hope this project will become an example of academic excellence as a vehicle of accomplishment for Black students.”

The young engineer said he’s made great progress on building the fusor’s vacuum chamber but still needs an additional $750 for the supplies to complete his project. If his project gets fully funded, Udotong said he hopes to enter the reactor in science fairs and competitions and pursue scholarship opportunities.

Overall, the young engineer said he just wants his fusor to generate awareness for adopting more sustainable energy sources for the future.

“My goal is to start a conversation at the state, and even the federal, level about more serious action towards adopting alternative energy sources,” Udotong said. “I figure that if a high school student can do this, there’s no excuse for any of us.”

Udotong has not responded to ABS requests for comment.


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