Autistic teen may be smarter than Einstein

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News

Jacob Barnett, 14, is studying for a Master's degree in quantum physics.

What makes this story most remarkable is that his parents were told he'd never be able to read.

Jacob was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old.

"Oh my gosh, when he was 2, my fear was that he would never be in our world at all," Kristine Barnett, Jacob's mother, told the Indianapolis Star in 2011. "He would not talk to anyone. He would not even look at us."

Jacob proved his doctors wrong.

Now he's solving quantum mechanics problems.

With an IQ of 170, higher than that of Albert Einstein, the young genius from Indiana was tipped as a future Nobel prize winner after a Princeton professor confirmed that the then-9-year-old's mathematical models were groundbreaking, expanding on Einstein's famous field of relativity.

"I'm impressed by his interest in physics and the amount that he has learned so far," Professor Scott Tremaine wrote in an email to the family. "The theory that he's 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."

Jacob taught himself calculus, algebra and geometry in two weeks. He can solve up to 200 numbers of Pi. He has a photographic memory.

At the age of 10, Jacob enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. In 2011, he became the world's youngest published astrophysics researcher — and gave a TEDx Teen talk about "forgetting what you know."

Jacob is now a paid researcher in quantum physics at the university.

Jacob's mother, Kristine Barnett, chronicled her son's story in the book "The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius." Warner Bros. has already acquired the rights to the story.

"He overcomes it everyday. There are things he knows about himself that he regulates everyday," Kristina told USA Today of her son's extraordinary accomplishments, and his determined to overcome the limitations of autism.

"Well, I hope it really inspires the children to actually be doing something, a science or physics — even if it is not science," Jacob said of the book and likely movie. "Just encourages them to do what they like doing. I just hope it is inspirational."

Kristine and her husband, Michael, run a Jacob's Place, a not-for-profit community centre for autistic and special-needs kids and their families.

Jacob is currently writing a book to help end the "math phobia" he's witnessed among his peers.