Earlier this month, Mark posted that David Hahn, the "radioactive boy scout" who years ago tried to build a nuclear reactor in his basement, had been busted again. This time, he was nabbed for stealing smoke detectors allegedly to get at the bit of radioactive material inside for experimentation. For the back story on Hahn, check out Ken Silverstein's 1998 Harper's Magazine article "The radioactive boy scout: When a teenager attempts to build a breed reactor," now freely available on the magazine's Web site. And if the article doesn't satisfy your curiosity, Silverstein later expanded the feature into a book. From the article:
David’s parents admired his interest in science but were alarmed by the chemical spills and blasts that became a regular event at the Hahn household. After David destroyed his bedroom–the walls were badly pocked, and the carpet was so stained that it had to be ripped out–Ken and Kathy banished his experiments to the basement.
Which was fine with David. Science allowed him to distance himself from his parents, to create and destroy things, to break the rules, and to escape into something he was a success at, while sublimating a teenager’s sense of failure, anger, and embarrassment into some really big explosions. David held a series of after-school jobs at fast-food joints, grocery stores, and furniture warehouses, but work was merely a means of financing his experiments. Never an enthusiastic student and always a horrific speller, David fell behind in school. During his junior year at Chippewa Valley High School–at a time when he was secretly conducting nuclear experiments in his back yard–David nearly failed state math and reading tests required for graduation (though he aced the test in science). Ken Gherardini, who taught David conceptual physics, remembers him as an excellent pupil on the rare occasions when he was interested in classwork but otherwise indifferent to his studies. “His dream in life was to collect a sample of every element on the periodic table,” Gherardini told me with a laugh during an interview at Chippewa Valley before his 8:20 A.M. class. “I don’t know about you, but my dream at that age was to buy a car.”