Meet the youngest ChangeX starter Tom, a nuclear fusion reactor builder


Tom McCarthy doesn’t fit the typical changemaker profile at all which is this: On average 40 years or older and female. Tom is only 15 and that makes him our youngest starter in the ChangeX100 challenge.

He went along to the ChangeX Meetup in Castlebar and didn’t think twice before he raised his hand to start 121digital during his upcoming Tranistion Year. He recently came by our office and we had a chat with him about how that happened.

We first met you at the ChangeX Meetup in Castlebar, where would we normally find you, what do you do?

I’m still a student but I moonlight as a nuclear fusion reactor builder… I’m involved in a few different things. I’m very interested in maths, physics and programming and love playing the guitar. I also play Gaelic football and box too. At the moment I’m building a nuclear fusion reactor (Fusor), which I raised €10,000 to build in the Summer of 2014. Most days I like to play some music, work on the Fusor, meet my friends and read. Community wise I honestly don’t do much, but am trying to get involved with 121digital.

Why 121digital? What did you like about the idea?

I think 121digital is just something that clicked with me. By participating in 121digita, I get a direct opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. It might be something as simple (to those familiar with technology!) as showing how to send an email, but not knowing how to do these things is what prevents others from making the most of today’s technology. I think 121digital will give me a great opportunity to get involved with my community and put my talents to good use. Also, because 121digital is tailored for Transition Year students, I’ll be able to get my friends and classmates involved too.

What are your special talents that give you the confidence to do this?

I like to think that I’m really good at getting things done, but my Mum would say otherwise! In reality, without trying to sound boastful, I’d say I have a particular talent for logical thinking and problem-solving. This can be applied to all areas of life, as whoever you are, you’re going to have problems at some stage, but it’s particularly useful for maths and related fields, like physics and programming… The mathematical sciences are nearly completely focused on solving any range of problems to do with any range of phenomena and as such they’re probably the things that I’m best at.

And is there anything that you expect to be challenging?

I’m not sure. The idea of 121digital is quite straightforward, so as long as my tutoring skills are up to scratch, everything should go well. In saying that though, my tutoring skills are going to have to be up to scratch, so that’s probably my biggest challenge.

You volunteered for the community initiative Love Castlebar. So, what is it that you love about Castlebar?

One of the things that would stand out for me in Castlebar is the number of adults that are willing to help out and trust teenagers. I don’t know if it’s normal, but there are a huge amount of people that will take time out to advise and help people my age for any reason. There’s always a business that’ll give you a Summer job, or a tradesman that’ll give you a hand with a project for home or school.

Another thing is the people, there is such a range of characters and this creates its own set of stories and anecdotes to fill out the community’s history – From the old man that’ll stop a bunch of lads in the street and give them a lesson from his youth (“Because I know well you lads haven’t a notion of listening to your parents!”), to the parents roaring at the top of their voices on the sideline of a Gaelic match.

Could you imagine getting involved with community initiatives in Castlebar?

I could definitely see myself getting into more ChangeX projects, but I’ll have to see how 121digital goes first. I’ve spotted one or two other initiatives that I’d be up for getting involved in: CoderDojo, which I was already familiar with and Grow It Yourself. CoderDojo was a clear favourite due to my interest in programming, but I think Grow it Yourself is also a commendable way to get people into growing their own food, which can be a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding hobby.

Is there anyone you look up to as you set your personal goals?

I’m not sure really! I wouldn’t look up to any single person in particular, but there are plenty of people that I respect for various reasons. The Collison Brothers would be two people I look up to for their modesty while achieving fantastic success. I think Andrew Wiles, the mathematician, has an unbelievable drive and sense of determination, while I also respect Sean O’Sullivan for his dedication to ethical work and the sheer amount of effort he puts into charitable work.

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