The 18-year-old who built a nuclear reactor

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Editor's note: Taylor Wilson is the subject of CNN's "The Next List" on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) --- At 18, Taylor Wilson has probably accomplished more than most people will in a lifetime.

He is the youngest person in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor. And he won national acclaim for a counter terror device that sniffs out nuclear material in cargo containers. If that’s not enough, he built a prototype for a device that generates medical isotopes -- a feat that could make diagnosing and treating cancer cheaper and more widely accessible to patients.

Wilson has won a dozen awards at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the Super Bowl of science fairs, over the course of his high school career. Not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.

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    “Some people wonder if he’s for real,” said Bill Brinsmead, one of Wilson's mentors, and a Senior Technician in the Physics Department at the University of Nevada, Reno. Brinsmead and others who know him are sure that he is. The director of The Davidson Academy, Wilson's high school, calls him “larger than life.”

    It would be easy to conclude that what sets Taylor apart is his rare intellect, something only a tiny fraction of the world possesses.

    But ask Wilson why he’s successful and the answer might surprise you.

    “I think it’s mainly passion. We all have a similar intellectual capacity within reason but the people who really change the world, the Steve Jobs of the world, have always had that passion, that drive," he said. "They have that unique image of how the world should be and I have that. And I think that’s what sets me apart. You know my brain does work differently, but it’s the passion that really makes me successful."

    And where passion is concerned, it seems Wilson has a nearly inexhaustible supply.

    That and, as his father, Kenneth Wilson, points out: “He never takes no for an answer.”

    Wilson started building the nuclear fusion reactor in his garage but finished it at the University of Nevada, Reno. He did it initially because he was amazed by the power contained within the atom and obsessed with making things radioactive.

    Here's what he had to say on that subject:

    "I had this obsession with radioactivity, and short of contaminating something, to make something radioactive, you had to have a source of neutrons. And I don’t have weapons-grade plutonium around the house, or at least not at that time. But anyway, to make things radioactive, I would need a neutron source, so I decided to build this fusion reactor, but kind of with that came this interest in fusion."

    Subsequently, he used his reactor as a basis for the devices he invented.

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