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Interview with Architect Bjarke Ingels; Interview with Nuclear Physicist Taylor Wilson

Aired August 17, 2013 - 14:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This week you're going to meet two innovators whose bold ideas are pushing the boundaries of what's possible in architecture and science with spectacular results.


GUPTA (voice-over): Taylor Wilson is a physics prodigy who dreams of solving the world's energy problems, fighting nuclear terrorism and bringing cutting-edge cancer treatments to the furthest reaches of the planet. It sounds impossible, until you find out that Wilson was the youngest person in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor at the age of 14.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's one of those people that will change the world in some way.

GUPTA (voice-over): For Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, design is about creating possibilities for human life.

BJARKE INGELS, ARCHITECT AND FOUNDER, BJARKE INGELS GROUP: If we could do anything, what would we really do? That's exactly what architecture should be all about is to try to make the world a little bit more like our dreams.

GUPTA (voice-over): Ingels has a unique vision for building the future and he's seen it coming to life around the globe, including the skyline of Manhattan.


INGELS: In the big picture, architecture is the art and science of making sure that our cities and buildings fit with the way we want to live our lives.

The West 57 project is a really beautiful site. It's overlooking the Hudson River, has a view like we have here. It's perfectly oriented towards the south and the west.

Having spent 10 years of our career in Copenhagen, trying to escape the tyranny of the typology of the courtyard building, it could actually be an interesting thing to rediscover in Manhattan, if you like. The European courtyard is at the architectural scale what Central Park is at the urban scale, like an urban oasis at the heart of the dense city. This is the West 57th Street project. As you can see, it's this mixture between a skyscraper and a -- and a courtyard building, and it just sort of open up the courtyard for the views. It sort of tilts from being horizontal to being almost vertical, opening up the entire courtyard for the sun from the south and the west, so you would be able to see the sun set over the Hudson River.

And the bottom, like the southwest corner, is 42 inches, so it's really the height of a handrail. And here you're up like 430 feet, so you have this sort of incredible sort of from the -- from the human scale to the -- to the city scale in one single building.

ROBERT A.M. STERN, DEAN, YALE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE: It's a big idea that caught everybody's attention. It's the kind of idea that when you see it, you say how come nobody's thought of it before?

DOUGLAS DURST, DEVELOPER, WEST 57th PROJECT: I describe him as a genius. He doesn't fit the -- what you think of as an architect. He's brash, he's -- he's very young, but he is, I think, a true genius in the sense of being able to see designs in his mind and put them down on paper better than anybody I've met.

INGELS: Today a lot of people have this feeling that, you know, they ask why are all modern buildings so boring? And essentially, you say, like modern buildings have degenerated into these big boring boxes where the architecture is very passive and all the quality that makes the space inhabitable is this like onslaught of machinery that pumps air and light into the building.

So what we're interested in is what you could call engineering without engines, that essentially we use contemporary technology, our capacity to simulate and calculate the performance of a building, to put the attribute into the actual design of the building, the way it's structured, the way the windows are proportioned, the way it's oriented to try to capture the sun or create shape.

So, in a way, find new ways of informing the architecture, the design of the buildings. So, essentially, what we're interested in is buildings that look different, because they perform differently.

STERN: Bjarke has had a capacity to read deeply into the situation, the zoning, of economics of a project, the constructability of a project in a way that most architects tend to say, oh, the zoning is constraining. He sees the zoning -- I won't say as liberating, but as something if you master it, you can move on to a higher level.

You can say like Planet Earth has an existing geology, and what we do as -- as human being -- human beings and as architects is that we try to sort of alter and modify and expand the geology.

And, when you look at it this way, you realize that our cities and our buildings and architecture isn't the way it is because there's some kind of universal law that says that's how it has to be. They're the way they are because that's how far we got the last time we tried.

And since it's an ongoing experiment, like human presence on Planet Earth is constantly evolving and so should architecture in our cities.

GUPTA (voice-over): When we come back, Ingels shares his passion for big ideas, and a teenage prodigy pursues the Holy Grail of nuclear energy.


INGELS: I came here to Yale to teach studio, which is sort of a class where a group of students, 12 students, are given a real challenge.

So essentially what we would like to do for this -- for this studio is to look at the idea of social infrastructure.

The specific idea is to make an inhabited bridge, to propose a bridge over the East River of New York, where what carries the bridge is not going to be just steel and concrete, but it's actually going to be inhabited structures for apartments, spaces for living and working, maybe a little piece of park, a bicycle path.

We're just going through the harbor to see what would bridges be like as buildings. So basically when you see them from the water, looking up at them, what would a bridge be like a building. So like when you see these bridges from below, you always feel like it would be amazing if you could crawl around in these girders and like go where you're not supposed to go.

The idea of this studio is to see what if you could actually go, what if people were really living inside the bridge.

JAMES SOBCZAK, YALE STUDENT: A huge scale. I mean, you look at some of these bridges, compare it to actual buildings and skyscrapers, then they're actually quite bigger than them and a larger span.

KARL SCHMECK, YALE STUDENT: Bjarke I think is doing things in architecture right now that nobody else is doing. He's doing the kind of projects the way they're explained, the partnerships that he's creating and also their idea of synergy, bringing together a lot of different disciplines. I think this is something really novel, and Bjarke is doing it better than anybody else right now.

STERN: It's a big idea that got lost in the shuffle of big ideas, and bringing it back in a new way, it should be astounding, what he does.

INGELS: Architects have to become more than just designers of two- dimensional facades or three-dimensional architectural objects.

We have to become designers of ecosystems, stop seeing our presence, like the human presence on Planet Earth, as sort of detrimental to our ecosystem, but actually try to sort of integrate and incorporate our consumption patterns and our leftovers into our natural environment.

Sustainability can't be like some kind of a moral sacrifice or a political dilemma or even like a philanthropical cause. It has to be a design challenge.

This is the Danish Pavilion in Shanghai. The Danish Pavilion was part of the -- of the Shanghai World Expo that dealt with sustainable cities, and our idea was to try to capture all of the elements of Danish city life, where the fact that the city is sustainable increases its life quality.

And, at the heart of it, the harbor bath, sort of a sample of clean water where people can actually paddle and swim, with the Little Mermaid, the national symbol of Denmark that we actually managed to kidnap for six months.

We decided to place the Little Mermaid of Denmark, not a copy of the mermaid. We actually moved her to China. We had to wrest her out of the hands of the Danish equivalent of the Tea Party, who was trying to pass a law specifically against moving the mermaid. We had to get her through Chinese customs, and there she is.

DURST: He's annoyingly young and annoyingly brilliant. When you first meet him you would want to dislike him for those reasons. But he's a charming person and so open that you just can't help but like him.

INGELS: And also in Copenhagen, this building called the 8House, which is almost like a hybrid between a mountain village and a Copenhagen courtyard building people can actually walk and bicycle all the way to the penthouse in the middle of the city.

So here, this is the view from the -- from the top path, where you look out over the flat landscape of Copenhagen. It's a big park. You know, the lake here delineates the city limits, so you really have cows grazing on the other side of the water, a sort of meeting between man and cow.

It's a place where you can go for a walk hand in hand with your girlfriend, and check out the amazing view that you wouldn't have otherwise.

As architects, we try to sort of observe life, see what are people doing, and then we try to see what is it that people want? What is it that they desire? Essentially ask ourselves, if we could do anything, what would we really do? Like what are the things that we lack in our city? What are the things that we would like to do, but we can't, and then make them happen.

That's exactly what architecture should be all about, is to try to make the world a little bit more like our dream.



GUPTA (voice-over): Up next, Taylor Wilson is tackling terrorism and cancer treatment. And he's only 19.


TAYLOR WILSON, APPLIED NUCLEAR PHYSICIST: When I was 10 years old, that nuclear spark hit me. Whatever it may be, I really don't know what it was about nuclear science, but whatever it was that triggered that interest, it stuck. And I went after that one with a passion.

You know, just kind of realizing the power, this unseen power within the atom was I think what really drew me to it. You know, knowing that I can hold a piece of uranium in my hand that has enough energy locked in its nucleus to bring down an entire city, that's an incredibly powerful thing.

To tell you the truth, the reason I started building my fusion reactor was to make things radioactive. I had this obsession with radioactivity. Short of contaminating something to make something radioactive, you had to have a source of neutrons.

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. I decided to build this fusion reactor, but with that came this interest in fusion.

DR. RONALD PHANEUF, ATOMIC PHYSICIST: My name is Ron Phaneuf. I'm a professor in Atomic Physics here at the University of Nevada in Reno.

I first met Taylor, he was 13. And very first thing he told me was that he had this plan to build a fusion reactor. I knew he was serious. And I remember thinking at the time, that, you know, this is not the kind of project that you want to be doing at home in your garage with your family upstairs or on the other side of the wall.

So I started to think right then maybe we could find room for Taylor to do that here at the university.

WILLIAM BRINSMEAD, SR. TECHNICIAN, UNR: Well, first impression is he was probably about a foot shorter than he is now. And like I say, painfully young and I was just wondering, could this little guy really be as smart as they say he is?

After talking to him, it didn't take very long to figure out that he's very intelligent, very savvy with things -- most anything to do with physics. I figured it would be kind of fun to help him with his projects.

WILSON: There were many sleepless nights before I got nuclear fusion. It was an incredible process in my life and time in my life. I can remember checking the neutron detector after my first fusion shock with fusion fuel and seeing the remnants of the neutrons in that detector.

And that was an incredible experience. You know, there was lots of laughing and high fives and excitement and calling of parents and friends.

KENNETH WILSON, TAYLOR'S DAD: Well, I really don't know what Taylor's got this from. A lot of that ground is I'm a fourth generation Coca- Cola bottler.

TIFFANY WILSON, TAYLOR'S MOM: We have no science in our family at all. I kid people -- I have all their lives say, who like, how did you end up with these kids? I said, well, it's all the health foods I fed them growing up, you know, teasing. He kind of started out just kind of, you know, timid and shy and just took everything in and then, you know, just blossomed. Any interest he had, he just went crazy with it.

He started out with construction and learned every name of every tractor and from that went to rockets and learned all the rockets.

TAYLOR WILSON: (Inaudible) just about one second after it does, the (inaudible), it's starting to filtrate (inaudible).


KENNETH WILSON: He was about 9 years old and he had become interested in nuclear energy and nuclear bombs.

TAYLOR WILSON: We're constantly being bombarded by cosmic radiation, which is gamma rays, x-rays, neutron radiation from the sun.

KENNETH WILSON: So Taylor wanted to go up to Oak Ridge and visit with this professor. He was going to visit with us five minutes. Three hours later, we're still in the department and when we getting ready to leave, Taylor, when you get ready to go to college, I have got a scholarship for you.

He's 9 years old and got his first scholarship. I'm sitting there in awe. I didn't know he knew any knowledge or very little of nuclear energy. But after that day, I knew he was something special.

TAYLOR WILSON: My holy grail is fusion energy. Nuclear fusion has little to no radioactive waste. It's clean. It's very abundant. The fuels for it are everywhere.

There are problems with fusion. It's easy to make a fusion reaction. It's not easy to make a fusion reaction that produces net gain. The so-called breakeven point, where you produce more power out than you put in.

There's a joke in fusion energy research that fusion is always 30 years away and it always will be. But I hope I can make it this 30 years and I think I can.

It's so powerful. I mean, it is the power of the stars. If we could bring that down to the laboratory and to the power plant on Earth, that would be just an incredible thing.

I really think that I'll be the one that makes fusion energy where we're going. I think that will be probably my greatest legacy.


TAYLOR WILSON: Yes, I joke with people that after I became the youngest person in the world to produce nuclear fusion, then I wanted a challenge. And that challenge was solving some of the biggest problems of the world. I was about 7 years old on 9/11, and I think the September 11th attacks really hit home to me. As I got older and more advanced in my studies of nuclear science,

I started to realize how much more devastating a nuclear attack would be. You would kill hundreds of thousands of people or more compared to the thousands of people that were killed by the aircraft attacks.

And I realized how big a threat this was, that we had these, you know, basically open borders to nuclear terrorists, to nuclear proliferators. I started to realize that maybe I could do something about this.

I've developed a couple systems for counterterrorism applications for scanning primarily things like cargo containers for nuclear weapons. One of the systems actually uses water. They're as sensitive, if not more sensitive, than the pre-existing helium 3 detectors but at a small, small fraction of the cost.

Everybody was incredibly excited about this, not just, you know, academic colleagues, but government officials, you know, politicians.

President Obama invited me to the White House to attend the White House Science Fair.

Hey, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Good to see you.

TAYLOR WILSON: Taylor Wilson.

KENNETH WILSON: I was so proud of him.

TIFFANY WILSON: Yes, pretty amazing.

OBAMA: So what do we have here?

TAYLOR WILSON: I developed a system for detecting nuclear threats specifically for cargo containers. It uses water instead of helium 3.

OBAMA: Well, that's pretty important.

TIFFANY WILSON: The president comes through and, you know, of course Taylor has him rolling. I mean, doubled over twice laughing at Taylor's remarks.

OBAMA: Let's test this sucker out and see if it works.

TAYLOR WILSON: Yes, well, they wouldn't let me turn it on. Secret Service really didn't want me bringing my nuclear reactor in.

TIFFANY WILSON: And he's like his best buddy. You known, no nerves at all.

TAYLOR WILSON: Good meeting you, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Good to see you. You may be working for me soon.

PHANEUF: One of his advantages is that he thinks outside the box. Taylor was essentially self-educated in nuclear physics. So he could see things that maybe other people were blind to.

TAYLOR WILSON: I started looking at some medical technologies, having a grandmother that died of cancer recently. And that was something that was on my mind.

Nuclear medicine really is the doctor's best tool for diagnosing disease, whether it be cancer or another disease. The problem is that it basically resolves around things called radioactive isotopes. These radioactive elements that spontaneously decay and emit radiation. Those can either be used to locate or treat disease.

The problem with these isotopes, is they're very short lived and so companies that produce them have to go to great lengths to get them to the hospital to treat or diagnose the patients.

They actually have fleets of private jets sometimes because the isotopes are so short lived, so I had the idea of why could I not develop a device that produces these isotopes on site, at the hospital?

It's incredibly inexpensive and could potentially be wheeled into the hospital room.

TIFFANY WILSON: So he's now figured out a way to make the isotopes more portable, is what he's working on. And that way they can have PET scans, you know, in remote parts of the world that they can't right now.

He thinks if he can get these in -- locally in hospitals that will be a better way to diagnose cancer and I think someday he would like to find a cure.

TAYLOR WILSON: I think everybody you know, at least I know, has been touched by cancer. Being able to see kind of the impact that you're seeing on a more personal level is incredibly gratifying to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Reno, Nevada, Taylor Ramon Wilson.

GAGE HOLLEMAN, TULSA, OKLAHOMA: Just to try to get to his level is extremely inspiring for, I think, all of us. He's doing radioactive isotope work with cancer cells.

SEAN NATHAN, SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA: This is just ridiculous work. I'm honestly stumped at how a kid could be so smart. It just makes me want to go on in life and do bigger and better things than I'm doing now.

I actually have a signed copy of Taylor Wilson's abstract because I feel like he's the next Tony Stark.

TAYLOR WILSON: I think the people in my life are completely responsible for my success. It's kind of two parts to this equation. It's, you know, kind of raw intellect and passion really, but it's also having the network of support.

BRINSMEAD: We broke down someplace. I've been here for 30 years now. I have never met anyone like Taylor.

PHANEUF: I think he is the smartest person I've met in my life. And I've met a lot of really smart people. I've been privileged to meet Nobel laureates, and Taylor is right up there with them.

TAYLOR WILSON: I've always been really passionate about solving problems and really passionate about changing the human condition. And I think my technology can do that.

As long as I make an impact, that's really what matters to me. I want to change lives and I want to save lives. And I think my technologies can do that.

I have got a bucket list and just about one of the only things I haven't crossed out on my bucket list is winning the Nobel Prize. So we'll see.


GUPTA: There's no question that Taylor Wilson and Bjarke Ingels bring passion, energy and drive to their work. We put them on THE NEXT LIST because both Wilson and Ingels are using vision and intellect to reimagine the world as it could be, and then dedicating their lives to seeing that vision become reality.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. Hope to see you back here next week.