In 1976, John Aristotle Phillips was an underachieving student at Princeton. In order to improve his grades, he wrote a term paper on nuclear proliferation. The report included designs for an atomic bomb similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki. He used publicly available books and papers to create the design. He got an A+ on the report, and promptly had it seized by the FBI.
“I wanted it to be simple, inexpensive and easy to build,” said Phillips, 21, the son of a Yale engineering professor. “The idea was not to use any classified information. I wanted to do it with what was available to the public.”
According to nuclear physicist Frank Chilton of Palo Alto, Calif., the Princeton student has overcome some of the major pitfalls in building a nuclear device. He says it’s 20 years behind the time, but still more sophisticated than the Hiroshima bomb. Phillips hasn’t actually built the bomb, but it would be about the size of a beachball and weigh 125 pounds.
Page 20 of Phillips’ research paper had been withheld from public view: It deals with the key problem of the type of high-explosive component needed to trigger the nuclear blast. Phillips figured out the answer with the aid of nuclear engineering textbooks and two U.S. government publications. Says Phillips: “It’s very simple. Any undergraduate physics major could have done what I did.” (Source)
In February 1977, several months after the story first went public, Phillips was contacted by a Pakistani official trying to purchase the bomb design. By that point the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confiscated Phillips’s term paper along with a mockup of the bomb he had constructed in his dormitory room.
As of 2016, Phillips is in the business of political data mining—he finds out everything he can about individual voters and then sells that information to politicians. Aristotle’s massive private database contains detailed information on roughly 175 million American voters. The company was founded in 1983. (Source)
Mushroom: The True Story of the A-Bomb Kid, John Aristotle Phillips, 1979
People Magazine: A Princeton Tiger Designs An Atomic Bomb in a Physics Class, 1976
Vanity Fair: BIG BROTHER INC., 2007