Teen builds nuclear reactor for science fair, gets disqualified

A nuclear reactor built by a Wyoming teenager isn't enough for a science fair that disqualified him from their competition. Fair officials did not censure the teen for building the fusion reactor, but for entering too many science fairs in the wrong order.

Conrad Farnsworth, an 18-year-old from Newcastle, Wyoming, built the reactor in his father's garage. He ordered some parts online, and traded for other parts he needed. Farnsworth is one of only about 15 students to have ever created such a device, and the first from the Equality State.

Farnsworth's goal - one he had worked toward for four years - was to enter the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Rules of the competition allow students to participate in just one regional science fair and later, one larger event, like a state-wide competition in order to qualify.

Students from Newcastle High School usually start with the University of Wyoming state-wide event and then go on to compete in a regional competition held in Rapid City, South Dakota. Farnsworth entered both events, qualifying for the Intel event during the South Dakota competition.

The high school, which sits just a few miles from the South Dakota border, has been sending students to both competitions for years, but this is the first time on of their pupils would have made into the Intel fair. None of his teachers knew the rule limiting qualifying events existed.

"The South Dakota fair is close and gives our kids another opportunity to present their work. I think that was some of our motivation, and it did give our kids another chance to qualify," Doug Scribner, a science teacher at Farnsworth's high school, said.

Because Farnsworth entered both qualifying events, and in the wrong order, the director of the fair, Annie Bergman, reported Farnsworth, and disqualified the teen from the International competition. Her contract was later not renewed by the University of Wyoming who sponsored the event, as officials deemed that she had acted outside her authority.

"It's frustrating having four years to get to a single point go down the drain. It's a science fair. Seriously, aren't they supposed to be promoting science and not bureaucracy?" Farnsworth said.

The student graduated high school this year and will be attending the South Dakota School of Mines.

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