In 1977, Princeton University student John Aristotle Phillips channeled his inner explosives to become one of the most infamous twenty-somethings in the nation.
Allegedly on the verge of failing out of college, Phillips decided to get super-creative in physics class one day. To save his behind from flunking, he wrote one of the most memorable term papers ever: on how to build an affordable atomic bomb! He cited available sources from the Manhattan Project to create a design that would cost only $2,000 to manufacture. Under the eye of his thesis adviser, famed physicist Freeman Dyson, Phillips came up with a workable plan. Dyson reportedly said that he would give his advisee an A for his paper, but that the student should burn it as soon as the assignment was done.
Aristotle is still a talking head. Image via C-Span.
Once news of Phillips's invention hit the airwaves, people were shocked. The government turned Phillips's paper into a classified document, while the Pakistani government attempted to contact him to get the bomb plan. He and his roommate also co-wrote a memoir called Mushroom about the discovery.
Phillips has continued to make a name for himself in the near-forty years since. He ran for Congress in 1980 and today heads up Aristotle Industries, which turned data mining for political candidates into a lucrative business. In a Vanity Fair article on Aristotle, the magazine quipped, "Aristotle’s massive private database contains detailed information about roughly 175 million American voters. 'It’s not that [Aristotle’s] list is good—they’re considered to have the only list,' says Richard Viguerie, the venerable conservative strategist. 'Aristotle is the premier company in that area. If you want to get into demographics, I don’t know that they even have a competitor'.”
Feature image via Esquire.