John A Phillips (1955-present)

The class of 78
CEO Aristotle, INC

John Aristotle Phillips, founder of political data-analytics firm Aristotle, graduated from Princeton University with a degree in aerospace engineering in the class of 1978[1]. Known as the “A-bomb kid,” Phillips is known for a project he did in a physics seminar in 1976: designing a cost-effective and relatively small A-bomb[2]. While the cost of creating an atomic bomb can vary greatly, most estimates place the cost at well over $1 million[3]; Phillip’s project posited that it was possible to do so for roughly $2,000 and the actual bomb would fit in the size of a U-haul trailer[4]. A project with frightening connotations, Phillip’s work was confiscated by the FBI, despite the fact that Phillips was able to design his bomb using only his nuclear engineering textbook and two unclassified government documents[5]. Phillip’s professor has said that the design would likely work, but his design was not actually built. Moreover, in comparison to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, this bomb design has been said to be more sophisticated and complex, implying how easy it would be for political terrorists to make such a devasting weapon[6]. Nevertheless, though Phillips has said, “any other physics major could do this better,”[7] his project was the only one in that seminar to get an A[8].

After making this shocking paper, Phillip’s gained much popularity and was even approached by both France and Pakistan making offers to buy his research and later wrote a book on his experiences more broadly at Princeton. He slowly moved away from creating nuclear things and invented a motorcycle air bag[9], but he did become a strong activist against nuclear activity and ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice, once in 1980 and again in 1982. Today, he uses his politcal experience to aid other political campiagns through things like machine learning and technology solutions, and has become well-known name in the field of politics[10].