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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Waconia wunderkind, 16, builds particle accelerator

Took part in campus Regional Science Fair

Science Fair wunderkind builds basement particle accelerator.

2011-06-02
Broadcast on Fox 9 News, Eden Prairie, MN, 5/27/2011

WACONIA, Minn. - A Waconia wunderkind has built an unusual contraption in his basement that some trained physicists would have a tough time constructing -- a particle accelerator.

“There’s a quote that I always have a healthy disregard for the impossible,” said 16-year-old Nick Nothom.

Over the past year, Nothom has been working on building a tool used for high energy and nuclear physics. When asked why, he said, “One day I just kind of decided that I wanted to know more about the world, so I just started reading -- and then after I’d read enough, I … decided I wanted to actually do something, so I did.”

So, he built an electron accelerator in his basement and titled it “The Aurora Accelerator.”

“It accelerates the electrons to 65 percent the speed of light,” he explained.

In order to build the device, Nothom spent nearly $3,000 of his own money, which he saved by working at Target.

“It was very difficult because I didn’t have any designs to work off of and there were no blueprints for it because it’s never been done before,” Nothom explained.

Though accelerators have been built in large scales at research facilities, no one had ever attempted to build one in a basement using lots of PVC piping.

“The pipes are lined with aluminum foil, which stops the X-rays from permeating,” Nothom said.

About 400 yards of aluminum foil, to be precise.

“Old television sets are mostly where I’m getting the electron guns and steering coils, focusing coils,” he explained.

In fact, Nothom even used his own TV in the process.

“I hadn’t really used my TV for awhile,” he said. “So, I haven’t had a TV for about a year.”

Nothom’s unusual project -- besides the solar car he already built -- helped him be chosen to go to Switzerland next month to see the world’s largest particle accelerator.

Nothom was also offered a scholarship after attending the International Science Fair.

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