Teen Genius Taylor Wilson Returns to Home State

Arkansas educators are looking to Taylor Wilson, a young nuclear physicist, to help build technological talent in the state.

Wilson, now 18, built a nuclear fusion reactor at age 14, the youngest ever to do so. He grew up in Nashville (Howard County) and Texarkana. To foster his talent, his family moved him to Reno to study at Davidson Academy of Nevada. Now, he attends the University of Nevada in Reno. He’s received wide recognition from the scientific community and offers for federal research funding. However, he’s remained relatively unknown in his native state.

“I had heard about Taylor Wilson from various resources, and when I looked him up, I was fascinated that nobody in Arkansas was paying attention to him,” said Scott Smith, executive director of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. “He has extraordinary talent and has a lot of good stuff done already. A lot of people from all over are paying attention to him. He definitely has ties to Arkansas. He loves his home state.”

“He’s the rare exception of talent, but highlights the issue to me,” said state Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs. “We’ve got to find a way to retain that kind of talent in the state.”

Westerman has an engineering background. He said when he graduated from engineering school, he was offered jobs outside the state that paid significantly more than he could make in Arkansas. But he stayed in-state because “I liked Arkansas and I didn’t want to move away.”

Still, “from a career standpoint, there are probably better opportunities from out of state,” he said. “One thing I’ve said all along: To educate your students here, you also need to provide opportunities to work here when you’re out of college.”

Westerman teamed up with Smith to bring Wilson back to Arkansas as a guest. Wilson spoke at the Public School Resource Center’s fall conference in Hot Springs, and now the center is working on partnering with him further down the line.

“He has a real passion for STEM education,” Smith said, referring to the Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics Education Coalition. “A lot of times you hear about policy, curriculum and delivery, but it’s really good to hear from someone who’s done it on a grand scale.”

He said he hopes to use Wilson’s talent to advocate technological learning.

“Not that I see him really interested in teaching curriculum or doing courses, but more or less as promoting science and technology projects here in the state,” Smith said.