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The DIY Engineer Who Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Basement

Long shot it may be, but at least he's going for it.

Outsiders is a new Motherboard series that delves into the lives of the unsung pioneers who have chosen to live beyond the grid in order to make their scientific dreams come true.

Some people—myself not excluded—go to an office everyday because they can't think of anywhere else to go. We practice the prompt repression of wild ideas in exchange for remunerative employment, which to some is considered to be a kind of meaningful existence. Doug Coulter is not that sort of worker.


He may have started out behind a desk when he worked in the security business as a beltway bandit, coming up with signal processing and radio gadgets for our favorite three-lettered intelligence agencies, but in recent years, Doug's chosen to explore his engineering interests in the isolated backwoods of Virginia, absent from any pesky boss or sticky bureaucracy.

Doug's gone from being paid to play with other people's expensive toys to making his own. And although he may call them toys because of the amount of fun he derives from them, his creations are hardly ordinary playthings. Then again, Doug is no ordinary man.

After living with a meth head who had a trigger finger itchier than an Appalachian mosquito bite, Doug gave his ex-housemate the boot and confiscated his weapons, thus paving the way for his new found love for gunsmithing. Being that Virginia is one of America's more gun-friendly states, Doug's new skills made him a popular guy in the neighborhood. And instead of hoarding his knowledge of firearms, Doug has since open sourced his gun and ammo making techniques on his well-trafficked engineering forum.

But Doug's most exciting creation is his guerilla-engineered nuclear fusion reactor. His pursuit of a limitless source of clean and self-sufficient energy takes place in what he calls his "den of creative chaos," which is essentially a cluttered workshop in the entrance of his home, directly underneath his bedroom.

Nuclear fusion, which produces energy by fusing atoms, rather than splitting them, has been a dream of physicists and clean energy fans for years. But while there have recently been major strides to in fusion generation, a full-time reactor that produces more energy than it takes in remains a long ways off.

Doug claims that his homemade fusion reactor has the potential to be the holy grail of energy, and hopes to one day pass the threshold at which the reactor produces more power than it needs to run. It's certainly fair to be skeptical of Coulter's claims, although he isn't—and he's not the only person building DIY nuclear reactors.

To hear Doug tell it, his efforts could possibly level and at least royally piss off a trillion dollar energy industry. Long shot it may be, but at least he's going for it. Instead of fatiguing himself with morning commutes and measly paychecks, Doug is more busy developing and sharing his open source DIY philosophy to share with the rest of us.