"Spending 3+ hours a day on a project during junior and senior year did not help my grades. My counselor told me that I wouldn't get into the top colleges because of this reason. I believed her and didn't apply to my dream colleges."
If you were hiring for a physics position, would you take the guy who got straight A's on his physics coursework, or the guy who built an effing nuclear reactor in his bedroom?
In an undergrad department meeting, the topic was brought up on "why your parents should not call or arrive at the school seeking to talk to professors about their student's grades."
It's an open secret at some schools, Harvard being one of the most famous, that if you're rich or well-connected enough, you get in and coast with a B average, with relative ease--a C average at the worst.
The straight-A student is certainly able to put their minds to whatever they are told to, at least enough to get an A in each subject (and possibly no more).
In other words, the person who has demonstrated solid abstract knowledge (breadth/versatility) and actual ability to do research (depth/hands-on).
I was a solidly B student in high school, but I had some extracurriculars (not quite building fusion reactors) that I devoted an absurd amount of time to and excelled at. And I got into MIT.
My guidance counselor as well as extremely discouraging, however after being at MIT for two years, I'm inclined to say that admission to a university like mine hinges on both being an interesting person and possessing demonstrable intelligence - not necessarily through scholastic channels.
'04-'05 seems to be the last year MIT reported high school GPA's ; probably because the number is meaningless.
Standing out exceptionally in one category (such as extracurricular projects) is not something the average admit to MIT posseses.
Selecting the top 10% of those gets you 1700 students, which is quite close to the size of Harvard's acceptance statistic (of 2000)
The person you're replying to indicates that 10% is 1700, and that 10% may be more representative of the high-EC and 4.0 level.
I'm not sure a few thousand folks from around the country qualifies as 'bunches'. Thinking back to my high school days, we had only a handful of people who were both academically advanced and active in many EC - sports, music, theater, etc. Partially there's just not enough time in most people's days to get 'good' at multiple things, even if there's aptitude. Secondly, not everyone can actually afford to get involves in a lot of ECs (despite aptitude/talent).
I can't think of anyone I know from my school (class of over 600, IIRC) who was all 4.0 GPA who also did multiple EC work. We had people in both camps. And I had a pretty lousy GPA, but did much better on ACT than some of the high GPA kids.
I know someone who got into an MIT engineering program roughly around '03 and they claimed to have below a 500 on the old SAT verbal section (scored perfect 800 the math though).
Their claim was they purposefully did not study for the verbal section because 'excelling at rote memorization to get into the top schools in the world is idiotic at best,' something like that.
Speaking from experience, taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made.
The counselor told me people wouldn't want to hire me if I didn't have a diploma or a college degree if things didn't work out.
I honestly believe the counselor was looking out for me and wasn't incompetent, but christ I wish I hadn't listened to him.
> After submitting my college applications, I began making more connections. When I apply to other colleges as a junior, I will be getting likely 5+ recommendations from various chairs and professors at MIT, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz.
Or maybe he mentions another school in the AMA?
I didn't build a Farnsworth Fusor in high school but my school is ranked about the same as UCSC, hah.
I agree it does matter - that's just the argument that's used.
Side note: the view of the hills and mountains from the reactor room is gorgeous.
Agreed. The twins' fusor.net profile says the they live in Berkeley, CA, a suburb across the bay from San Francisco. At 1min into the video I'm fairly the shot is from Berkeley looking across the bay to San Francisco. The mountains in the background look like the ones just south of San Francisco.
If you head a bit farther up the hill from where they say they live, the view is quite pretty: https://simplyrunningonfaith.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/img...
Actually now I think about it the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance declaring it a Nuclear-free zone, so I wonder if this project is legal.
That's not to say I agree with it. Berkeley has long been a hub of unhealthy NIMBYism, and this law is a leftover from the Cold War. I'd like to see that change.
There is a lot you can do with a supportive family.
So electron beams ahoy then? "But muuuum! -45kV is a LOW voltage!"
The pros for college are access to lab stuff and some smart people + what you learn. I believe they can do the learning on their own just fine and well access to cool tech toys is also readily available at most tech companies...and there's also a lot of smart people around.
My son pulls off some cool experiments all on his own (I stay out of it apart from the phone call consultation, or YouTube video call) with salvage and other workarounds, with the money he earns and my contributions.
These brothers have a freakin' mini-Tony-Stark lab in their house! Good for them and their parents. I like to see money spent this way rather than traveling team sports and uniforms. My take is sciency types, aka nerds, indulge more in solitary sports - rock climbing, skating, biking if they have time away from building a frigging nuclear fusion reactor in the bedroom!
Or you can learn business and marketing skills, which you will need anyway if you want to do something great.
For example, your son could set up some sort of Kickstarter collecting money for his fusion reactor. Or get in touch with universities asking for help. And so on.
I mean I agree that resources make a difference - for example I have heard many science project winners actually had help and got to use their parents labs. But don't let it dissuade you, don't give up.
He started down the Kickstarter, Patreon road, but after a slew of failed and negative stories this past year on unfulfilled projects, angry supporters, he decided to go it his own.
He does juice out as much as he can with what he has to overcome any given constraints, but that only goes so far. Believe me, I am now living in the rice fields of East Java, and sometimes no amount of time or creative thinking wins the day for certain things out here (lack of cobra anti-venom, or time to get it). I do enjoy the challenge though, and have done some cool stuff on a shoe-string budget.
He's starting his won business fixing things people otherwise throw out - The ReAnimators! (not of the Lovecraftian movie). Sort of like the old TV/Radio repair shops that are gone. The business would not be too viable years back, but there is a lot of movement this way - the environment, built-in obsolescence (which is now being challenged by consumer groups and repair-oriented companies in court), and the joy of keeping the old piece of junk you are comfy with!
Digging into the wikipedia article I found this interesting/surprising:
Recent Developments :
"Most recently, the fusor has gained popularity among amateurs, who choose them as home projects due to their relatively low space, money, and power requirements. An online community of "fusioneers", The Open Source Fusor Research Consortium, or Fusor.net, is dedicated to reporting developments in the world of fusors and aiding other amateurs in their projects. The site includes forums, articles and papers done on the fusor, including Farnsworth's original patent, as well as Hirsch's patent of his version of the invention."
Apparently there's an entire online community of amateur home nuclear reactor builders .
"Aren't you a little young to be building a nuclear reactor?"
"Yes, yes we are."
My son and daughter are both doing well, but my son loves to experiment outside of school.
I have been encouraging my son to experiment and learn, and he has taken it to a higher level than I had imagined. I have bought him a telescope, and a 3D printer over the years. He works for his own equipment and supplies too. More each year.
Some of his experiments or demonstrations are recreated and slightly modified YouTube projects, and others are very original. I always tell him that being able to duplicate somebody else's work is good practice to learn proper rigor and familiarity with equipment and practices.
He is now a senior in high school, maintaining an A+ (>= 95) average in honor and AP classes. He won best Chemistry project in the whole county.
His biggest complaint is the amount of homework schools still dish out, several hours (3 to 4) each night. It takes away from his self-teaching and experimentation. Disclaimer: I am not too keen on public or institutionalized education. I think you learn more by doing projects that tie-in various disciplines, and accordingly I dropped out of college in the 80s to follow my passions. I've done well for myself considering I grew up below the poverty line when I was younger.
I was smelting metals in the 90s in my rural backyard without the internet or YouTube, and playing with TV cathode ray tubes in the late 70s. The former I could not have done where I grew up in Brooklyn, the latter was good to do most anywhere while tube sets were still around ;) I once tied the negative lead of a 9 volt DC transformer to my then sick Mom's big toe, and the other to a potted fern with copiously-watered soil, and then touched her same top foot with a connecting lead from the plant! Yes, stupid, but I was 10, and I had just read Frankenstein. Plus my parents were very positive about my inquisitive nature and doings. Mom passed in her older years, but never forgot the incident in a proud way.
My son is thinking on going to Germany for school due to the quality of education, and the fact that it is now free (almost, minus taxes and other expenses) for foreigners as well as citizens. He is also considering just starting on his own after high school, since he has acquired my distaste for institutionalized learning. The short of this bias: age-segregation, broken curriculum, non-integrated areas of study, homework and memorization over problem solving, etc. You can't even do certain experiments in school because they are considered too dangerous, or inappropriate. I do not try and push him too much either way. My ex-wife, is more conservative, and is hoping he will go to university.
Time will tell...
It looks like a great school!
Years later I read a fringe 'science' book about bioelectricity and limb regeneration. I guess I never kicked the Frankenstein thing (I visited Mary Shelley's grave site in Bournemoth, England in the 80s). It seems to be making a real science comeback. 
[Edit] the fringe book I wrote of was 'The Body Electric' mentioned in the article I cited just before.
hopefully this is a house in a low-density suburb and not an apartment. amazing achievement, but at the same time very dangerous to be generating x-rays out of your bedroom.
(From another top-level comment.)
There had been kids who built atomic reactor in their parents house and garden shed. Needless to say it's nowadays a superfund site and some people suffer from poising and radioactive materials. I think there is even a documentary about the boy scout guy who built a atomic reactor and afaik it was on HN before.
[disclaimer: While the reaction vacuum chamber seen in the video can be found at universities and is certainly less harmful than an open atomic reactor (see real boy scout guy story from above), it never the less involves substances that have to be handled with great care]
Edit: the boy scout guy David Hahn built an radiactive reactor at home, he was 17 years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn
In this case it is a deuterium-deuterium fusion reactor and both the fuel and the waste (helium 3) are pretty safe to handle. The device is only radioactive while it is operating.
That being said, he did say that he got tons of help from professors so at the very least he knows exactly how to remain safe.
Looks like the Fusion Reactor story caused a meltdown of Reddit's servers :)
He also mentions building a laser.
> a wood burning CO2 laser turret
I'd be interested in the details about that. I did some research about what it would take to build a basic laser years and years ago, but gave up when I saw the kind of chemicals I'd need to handle. I wasn't confident I could deal with the chemicals correctly in my tiny apartment.
TEA lasers are basically just a few pieces of metal and high-voltage, seen them at high-school level quite a few times: http://www.sparkbangbuzz.com/tealaser/tealaser7.htm
CO2 lasers are relatively complex and are easiest if you buy some parts readymade, but can be completely homebuild as well: http://jarrodkinsey.org/co2laser/co2laser.html
There are tons of ressources online, a good overviw over different possibilities and basic information can be found here: http://www.repairfaq.org/sam/laserfaq.htm#faqtoc
Looking at the video linked elsewhere, this was run in a bedroom on the second or even third floor of a single-family residence. He mentions not being able to detect x-rays more than 35ft from the device. I think a neighbor would have to be trying to get in range to be affected.
Here's the video again, queued up to the view out the bedroom window: https://youtu.be/92M5qcjDkaU?t=1m5s
What's lethal at 3 inches probably isn't measurable at 50 feet.
Still, I think if it had been me I'd have some lead shielding around it.