BY: JACK M.
At the age of two, Jacob Barnett was diagnosed with severe autism, and his parents were told by a small army of educators and doctors that he would never be a functioning member of society, let alone a contributing one. They were told that Jacob would probably never read, write or talk. But Jacob’s mother, Kristine, wasn’t taking the advice of the so-called “experts.” The hours of daily therapy and the special education program that consumed Jacob’s life were going nowhere, and he was becoming more distant and less happy. “Most of the time, it didn’t even feel as though he was in the room. He had stopped speaking entirely. He no longer made eye contact with anyone, nor did he respond when he was spoken to. If you hugged him, he’d push you away,” his mother reported. So Kristine Barnett, herself a nursery school teacher, began to do two things that would eventually change both their lives forever: she began to homeschool him, and she allowed him to indulge in the peculiar activities that he seemed to enjoy – drawing, mathematics and solving puzzles.
In his new environment, free from the expectations and constraints that the “system” imposed on him, Jacob eventually breezed through high school. He absorbed the high school’s entire math curriculum in two weeks and was accepted to his home state of Indiana’s Purdue University at the age of ten, where he studied astrophysics and earned some money on the side by tutoring his fellow students in advanced mathematics and working as a research assistant. And two years ago, at the age of 15, Jacob applied and was accepted to the world-renowned Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, where he is currently studying for his PhD, the youngest student ever in the institute’s 16-year history to do so. And to give some idea of the prestige that the Perimeter Institute holds on the world stage, Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most renowned theoretical physicist of our time, has done research there.
The year before he entered Purdue University—at all of nine years old—Jacob worked on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. After reviewing his work, Princeton’s Professor Scott Tremaine says that “The theory that [Jacob] is working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics…Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize.” With a photographic memory, an IQ over 170 – higher than Albert Einstein’s estimated IQ – and having had his research published at the age of 13, there is little doubt in most people’s minds that Jacob Barnett, the boy who still has trouble tying his own shoelaces, is destined for nothing less than greatness.