Autistic boy genius, Jacob Barnett

By May of this year, Jacob Barnett had wrung everything he could get out of the university he had been attending for four years in his home state of Indiana. He had taken every undergraduate course on mathematics and physics, and a bunch of graduate-level courses too. None of it had even slowed Jacob down. The only question now was where he would go to study next.

As Jacob accompanied his mother, Kristine Barnett, on an international tour to promote a book she’d written, the two of them spent their spare time dropping in on the world’s great institutions of research and higher learning, places like Cambridge and Stanford. The last stops on the tour were in Canada. In Toronto, he delivered a familiar line to his mother: “I want to find some physics.” There was a lecture scheduled at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, 90 minutes’ drive from Toronto in Waterloo, Ont. The lecture was not open to the general public, but the Barnett family has formidable powers of persuasion. Soon enough, mother and son were walking through the atrium of the sunny, clean-lined research institute conceived and financed by BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis.

“He fell in love with this place,” Kristine Barnett recalled last week at Perimeter. “It was only about maybe five minutes into walking around the building that I realized Jacob had found where he wanted to be. I knew it before he told me. But then he told me.”

At the beginning of August, the Barnett family sold their Indiana home and moved to Waterloo. Several days later, Jacob began a year’s study in Perimeter Scholars International, a master’s-level program designed to attract the finest physics students in the world. There are 31 students in this year’s program. Their brilliance is formidable, their dedication inspiring.

But even in this group, Jacob Barnett stands out. He is nearly a foot shorter than they are. They’re in their early 20s. He’s 15. Continue reading

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