The good old college days. When you look back at your own college life as a teen, you were either the kid who loved studying, getting all those A’s, or that party jock varsity kid enjoying all the free-flowing booze. There’s a lot of in-betweens to those categories—the invisibles, those music-loving band kids, those who didn’t really care about studying, those who were making something out of themselves, and then you have an unassuming John Aristotle Phillips.

Well, who the heck is John Aristotle Phillips? He’s that Princeton graduate who just happened to design a functioning atomic bomb in his dorm room in 1976.

Unassuming John Aristotle Phillips

John was pretty much your normal college kid who had his ups and downs. In 1976, World War II wasn’t a distant memory, and pretty much were still in the talks in the physics realm, a field Phillips was studying at Princeton. Especially with former President Truman signing the Atomic Energy Act in 1946, a law that would be revised in 1954, the whole nuclear bomb topic would float around for decades to come—in fact, until today.

Growing up with a Yale-tenured mechanical engineering professor as a father, you can say that he was not a newcomer to the whole numbers and physics game. However, the New Haven native wasn’t really the stellar student of his time. In fact, he was an underachieving student who was also the school mascot who entertained the crowds as the Princeton Tiger at sporting events. He also helped a pizza business within the campus to thrive, a pizza joint that earned $1,000 a week.