Guest Post by Jasmine Hall
Here is fair warning: this article may make you feel stupid. While you were a kid, learning about the mysteries of the screen door, prodigies at your age were solving differential equations and being nominated for Nobel Prizes. Invariably these geniuses skip elementary school altogether, teach themselves high school in a matter of months, and are off to college around the time they hit puberty. Some tire of academia and move on to other interests, but a few have proceeded to get doctoral degrees at incredibly early ages. Here are 10 of the youngest PhD recipients ever.
His world-record IQ of 210 makes him a genius nearly twice over. By age 3 (that’s not a typo) he was a physics student at university. NASA brought him from Korea to do research for them at age 8. He worked there for 10 years while earning a PhD in physics at the age of 16. When he left NASA and returned home, amazingly he could not find a job because he needed elementary, middle, and high school diplomas, all of which he had skipped and had to go back and earn.
This brilliant man died in 1964, but two prestigious awards, a math center at the University of Maryland, and a crater on the moon all bear his name. Norbert Wiener went to high school at 9, was out by 11, and by 14 had completed a college degree at Tufts. At the ripe age of 18, for his thesis on math logic, Harvard awarded Wiener a PhD. He would go on to work with guided missiles in World War II, acquiring knowledge that helped him create the field of cybernetics in 1948.
A 1500 SAT score is great, but every year dozens of students score higher. Only, Sho Yano earned his score when he was 8 years old. By that time he’d been reading for six years and composing music for four. At 9 he enrolled at Loyola University, and would graduate summa cum laude four years later and enter med school. Five years after that, when other kids might have celebrated an 18th birthday by buying cigarettes or emancipating themselves from their parents, Sho was reveling in his hard-earned PhD in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago.
Sergey N. Mergelyan
The Armenian man who gave us the theorem for finding holomorphic polynomials was clearly no dummy. After graduating from Yerevan State University at the age of 19, Mergelyan really picked up the pace, earning a doctor of science at age 20. To this day, no younger Russian has done the same. Four years later, he became the youngest ever member of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences. Mergelyan died in 2008 at the age of 80.
At the age of 12, Ashkay Venkatesh climbed the medal winners’ podium at the International Mathematics Olympiad and the bronze medal was placed around his neck. In 1997, at the age of 14, he was admitted to the University of Western Australia, becoming the school’s youngest student ever. He headed to the States to work on his PhD in number theory at Princeton University, finishing it in 2002 at just 20. He has since taught at MIT, NYU, and Stanford, lecturing on “equidistribution questions on homogeneous spaces, the interplay between ergodic and spectral techniques,” and other topics that are completely over our heads.
Tathagat Avatar Tulsi
It was never his dream to break records, says Tathagat Avatar Tulsi. But even so, his name went down in the books for world’s youngest post-graduate degree holder at the age of 12 with his Master of Science. Once that was done, he apparently decided to keep the ball rolling by becoming India’s youngest doctorate. It may have taken him longer than he expected, seeing as he was on pace to finish by 17, but the doctorate in quantum computing he earned at the age of 21 was still an incredible feat.
Just reading Einstein in your teens puts you in a special category of intelligence. Wolfgang Pauli not only read him, he had published several definitive papers on the theory of relativity by the time he was 18. He had been encouraged by his physics professor at the University of Munich who realized he had nothing to teach the young man. Einstein himself praised a later paper of Pauli’s. Then, in 1921 at the age of 21, Pauli received his doctorate in theoretical physics. Nearly 25 years later, thanks to a nomination from Einstein, Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Kim Ung-Yong may be in Guinness as the world’s smartest man, but that may need to be updated. Christopher Hirata’s IQ is a mind-boggling, “verified” 225. His life is a stream of similarly amazing facts. He skipped seventh through tenth grades. He would fill in for his physics teacher in high school while himself not even yet a teenager. At 13, he did so well at the International Physics Olympiad that a “Youngest Medalist” award was created and then given to him. His PhD came at the age of 22 from Princeton in the field of astrophysics. Smart kid.
The only partying Michael Kearney did in college involved birthday cakes and fruit punch. In 1995 he became the youngest college grad ever at the age of 10, with a bachelor’s in anthropology. A master’s degree in biochemistry from Middle Tennessee State University followed four years later, and by 2006 he was set to receive his doctorate at 22. Kearney had been more an infant prodigy than a child prodigy, telling his doctor “I have a left ear infection” at the age of six months.
Ronnie Pavlov was used to being the youngest person at graduation by the time he received his PhD in math from Ohio State University in 2007 at 24 years old. He had been the youngest at his high school graduation in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, too, when he graduated at 13. The story was the same four years later, when he received his undergrad degree at 17. But he said of his doctorate work, “You meet so many brilliant people in graduate school; there are lots of people who could have done what I did.”