Some children are amazing, easily mastering areas of learning that most adults struggle to understand. But not all smart kids grow up special.
“Countless child prodigies lose interest in their area of talent and drop out; others become experts in their field as adults. Only a Few Become Creative Adult “Geniuses” write Ellen Winner, Boston University psychologist and expert on gifted children, c New York Times.
Although few child prodigies continue to amaze us throughout their lives, those who do often change the course of history. Here are four smart kids who grew up to make their mark in science or technology… or both.
1. Blaise Pascal
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Born in 1623 and raised in Paris, Pascal’s father educated him at home because he was a sickly child. Although his father was a mathematician, he did not teach his young son mathematics and science—he considered the subjects too fascinating and feared they might interfere with Pascal’s study of the humanities.
This plan didn’t backfire, but it didn’t work either. When his father wasn’t looking, the young Pascal actually reinvented geometry; relenting, his father gave him a copy of Euclid Elements so the boy can fill in the details he missed (though he didn’t miss much).
As an adult, Pascal helped develop the probability field and contributed important work in physics, mathematics, and philosophy. Oh, and he also invented the roulette wheel.
2. John von Neumann
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Born in 1903 in Budapest, von Neumann had an impressive command of languages and an astonishing memory as a child. He would often fool himself by cracking jokes in classical Greek or reciting a page from the phone book — including numbers and addresses — by heart.
He was no slouch at math either. In 1930, as a young man, von Neumann immigrated to the United States. There he helped develop the first pioneer computers game theory and contributed to fields such as quantum physics, mathematical logic, and statistics. He also worked on Manhattan Projectwhich develops nuclear weapons.
3. Enrico Fermi
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Fermi was another mathematical child prodigy who grew up to help introduce the nuclear age. Born in Rome in 1901, he is often called the “father of the nuclear age” because his work led to the discovery of nuclear fission.
Fermi was known primarily as a theorist and experimenter—a rare combination. In 1938, Fermi received the Nobel Prize for discovering that most elements become radioactive when bombarded with neutrons. Four years later, he directed the first nuclear chain reaction in an underground squash court at the University of Chicago.
Of course, Fermi made important discoveries in nuclear physics, but also in geophysics and astrophysics. It is said that while on his deathbed, he timed his IVs to calculate how much fluid he was getting.
4. Anne-Marie Imafidon
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Born in 1990 in London to Nigerian immigrant parents, Imafidon was a math, computer and language prodigy (she spoke six). When she was only 11 years old, she died A level computer; when he was 20, he received a master’s degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Oxford.
As an adult, she worked in technology for firms such as Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard and Deutsche Bank. “I never noticed that in maybe 70 per cent of my A-level maths exams I was the only girl,” she said Evening Standard in a 2019 interview. But now she’s noticed—and these days, much of her energy goes toward promoting diversity in science and technology.