There have always been some pretty smart—make that incredibly smart—teenagers around.
Take, for example, the French mathematician Evariste Galois (1811–1832; at left), who invented the field of abstract algebra known as group theory while still in his teens. This branch of mathematics lies at the heart of modern quantum mechanics, among other things.
Galois may have been brilliant, but he was no nerd: He died in a duel over a love affair at the tender age of 21!
So, teen geniuses are nothing new. However, it does seem like there are more of them around today than ever before.
Some of them are inventors; some, like Galois, solve difficult mathematical problems; some are brilliant artists, performers, or entrepreneurs; and some have encyclopedic knowledge, speak multiple languages, or can correctly spell any word.
They are all smart. Very smart. Smart way beyond their years.
So, how do we measure intelligence? The most popular measure for intelligence is the Stanford-Binet IQ test offered through Mensa International, an organization for high-IQ people. An average IQ score is 85–114; 144 or above is considered genius-level. Yet, some people have intelligence and gifts that defy or go beyond a test score.
At first glance, it’s pretty hard to recognize the smartest teenagers. Just like fruit and other gifts of nature, we can’t (and shouldn’t) judge that proverbial book by its cover. You’ll recognize the diversity among these 50 smart teenagers and find very little in common among them in terms of physical characteristics, locations, background, etc.
Sometimes, genius only emerges after a slow start. For example, Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school, Winston Churchill failed 6th grade, and rocket scientist Werner von Braun failed 9th-grade algebra. Albert Einstein (at right) didn’t speak until he was four and didn’t read until he was seven, and Beethoven’s teacher called him hopeless as a composer.
For the most part, “wunderkinder” are just like you and me . . . just much smarter.
We list our teen geniuses in alphabetical order. In a few instances, we have interpreted “teenager” a bit generously: To be able to include some young people who have only recently turned 20; and also to include a 10-year-old who is a member of a truly remarkable family.
To meet some of the smartest teenagers alive today, read on!
Check out the new 25 Smartest Teenagers in the World Today Infographic!
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1. Jack Andraka, 16, Maryland, USA
There are science fairs and then there are science fairs. We’re not talking about using baking soda and vinegar to create a volcano in your high school auditorium. The science fair Jack attended took place in April on the South Lawn of the White House, with the president mentioning his work.
When his uncle died of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer, Jack designed a sensor that searches for a chemical in blood to help doctors easily and quickly detect the disease. Jack, who attends North County High School in Crownsville, MD, wanted to do something to channel his grief.
Initially, the teen couldn’t find anyone to help him: Close to 200 scientists rejected his request for lab space until he convinced a researcher at Johns Hopkins University to be his mentor. With guidance from his mentor, Jack developed a test for early-stage pancreatic cancer that is cheaper, faster, and 100 times more sensitive than previous tests.
Glory was not his only reward. Jack earned a handful of awards at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, including the top prize: a modest $75,000.
Now, look out for Jack’s next act: He has put a team of cross-country teens together to enter the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE competition. The goal of the competition is to create a device (available directly to consumers anytime, anywhere) the size of a smart phone which can make reliable health diagnoses.
Devoting two of his teen years to this challenge, Jack is obviously someone who cares deeply about helping other people. We cannott wait to see what his team produces.
2. Jacob Barnett, 14, Indiana, USA
Since Jacob Barnett presented “Forget What You Know” at the 2013 TEDxTeen Talk, it has become the third most popular TEDx Talk of all time. But that is not surprising. Jacob, with an IQ of 170, taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry in a week and amazed university professors as he has tackled some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.
Jacob is a top Master’s student, working towards a PhD in quantum physics. The wonder boy graciously tutors fellow college classmates after class hours; he is a popular guest at study & review sessions. Jacob’s mother Kristine Barnett jokingly notes: “I flunked math. I know this did not come from me.”
Jacob has focused on a new and very ambitious project: his own “expanded version of Einstein’s theory of relativity.” Not sure how to evaluate its merit, his mother sent a video of Jacob explaining his theory to the Institute for Advanced Study, near Princeton University. Institute astrophysics professor and world-renowned expert Scott Tremaine affirmed the authenticity of Jacob’s theory. Says Tremaine: “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’s achievements are especially astonishing when you consider that, when he was two years old and had not yet talked, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. Along with his parents, the teenager runs a nonprofit—Jacob’s Place—to help kids with autism. Jacob strongly believes that his autism helps him in being open to learning and new concepts.
3. Marian Bechtel, 18, Pennsylvania, USA
Meet Marian Bechtel. She is an 18-year-old scientist and passionate anti-war activist. A senior at Hempfield High School, in Landisville, Pennsylvania, she is committed to using technology for good.
Marian invented a device, a re-purposed land mine detector, which uses sound waves to determine where explosives are located. The inexpensive device is a standard metal detector equipped with a seismic vibrator and microphones. Marian, who is also an avid pianist, said the invention surfaced in her mind when she hit certain notes on the piano and observed the strings of a nearby banjo would vibrate. She discovered the same concept applies to detecting landmines in war zones.
Her project earned her a 2012 Intel Talent Search finalist spot, as well as recognition as one of Popular Science magazine’s Top 10 High School Inventors of 2012.
Marian notes that her parents’ work in geology inspired her project. She told MSNBC: “Years ago, they got connected with an international group of scientists working on a project called RASCAN, developing a holographic radar device for detecting land mines.” Marian added: “I met all of these scientists and talked with them about their work and the land mine issue. I was really touched and inspired by what they had to say.”
In a 2013 interview, Marian was asked about the scarcity of girls and women in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math) and what she would do to inspire more girls to get involved in STEM. She replied: “I would just tell them, ‘Yes, you will be a minority.’ In my last year of high school, I was the only girl in AP physics—and my high school had 2400 students. It was very intimidating, and I felt a lot of pressure to defend my gender. I didn’t want to do poorly and have people to say, ‘Oh, girls aren’t good at math,’ or ‘Girls aren’t good at physics.’ You have to be strong and be confident—and realize that you don’t fit a stereotype, because you’re you.”
Marian is majoring in geology and physics at Bryn Mawr College.
4. Shree Bose, 18, Texas, USA
Shree Bose created a drug which may help cure cancer; she’s already rubbing elbows with the “movers and shakers”—people like President Obama. The president has publicly recognized her achievements in cancer research and has spoken with her privately in the Oval Office.
She performed important research on the cancer drug, Cisplatin. This outstanding achievement won her first prize at the 2011 Google Science Fair, and gave here the opportunity to present a TED Talk about her work. Shree has also been recognized as one of Glamour magazine’s “Young Amazing Women of the Year.”
Watching her grandfather struggle with liver cancer, Shree set about trying to come up with solutions. She reached out to multiple research facilities and hospitals, requesting to perform research. Initially, doctors continually turned her down because of her age and lack of scientific experience. That is, until she contacted the North Texas Science Health Center. They valued her determination and decided to mentor her. And she produced outstanding results.
Shree has said: “My project not only contributes to the understanding of cancer drug resistance but also proposes a newer, more effective treatment regime for patients who have become resistant to certain drugs. For the over 240,000 patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer, this research will hopefully be able to reduce the recurrence rates in patients treated with particular chemotherapy drugs in the future.”
Shree’s drive for achievement does not end at the lab door. She was also editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper and captain of her swim team.
Shree is in her first year at Harvard. She is studying molecular biology and plans to go to medical school, to become a physician.
5. Phoebe Cai, 15, Pennsylvania, USA
Phoebe Cai knows math. She placed eighth among U.S. and Canadian participants at the 2012 Math Prize for Girls competition held at MIT. She was a bronze medalist at the 2012 Math Prize for Girls Olympiad.
The high school junior became a USA Math Olympiad Qualifier in 2012 and she is a two-year member of the Lehigh Valley math team, which won first place at the Princeton University Math Competition in 2012 and won fifth place overall at the 2013 Harvard-MIT Math tournament.
Phoebe received the 2013 Society of Women Engineers Award for her high honors in science and math.
Phoebe also performs research at a collegiate level, assisting in the data analysis of a University of Pennsylvania Medical School research project. Phoebe will perform research at MIT’s Science Institute.
The teen excels in French. In 2013, she placed seventh nationally in Level 2A, and won the Middlebury College French Award. She also participates in her high school orchestra.
Phoebe wants to study science in college and pursue a graduate degree.
6. Marko Calasan, 14, Macedonia
Marko Calasan is a computer systems prodigy, acknowledged as the youngest MCSA-certified computer systems administrator (age eight) and the youngest MCSE-certified computers systems engineer (age nine). He currently holds 12 Microsoft certificates and one Cisco certificate, receiving his first certificate at the age of six. After he’d passed the exams, Microsoft presented Marko with DVDs and games. While he considered it a thoughtful gesture, he said he wasn’t “really interested in those things.”
Marko, who has a passion for mathematics and physics, began reading and writing at age two; at four years of age he could speak in English. In describing his first memories of using a computer, Marko said: “I was approximately three years old and I was making simple actions like personalizing Windows, then installing Windows, making remote desktop connections with workstations and servers on remote locations, and so on.”
Marko teaches computer basics to children eight–11 in his elementary school. He is fluent in three languages and is learning a fourth. The prime minister of Macedonia provided him an IT lab to further his technical learning.
In 2010, Marko wrote a book for the pre-installation, installation, and post-installation process of Windows 7. The book consists of 305 pages. The Macedonia government bought the rights to the book, published it, and distributes it free to all schools.
When asked about his long-term plans, Marko said he hopes to write computer instructional books for users of all levels.
7. Colin Carlson, 16, California, USA
If you are Colin Carlson, you’re 16 and you’ve earned two bachelor’s degrees (a B.A. in Environmental Studies and B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, both from the University of Connecticut), a master’s degree (an M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, also from Connecticut), and you’re working on a Ph.D. (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California, Berkeley). Oh, and now, you’re interning in the Office of Policy for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
These achievements are not surprising considering Colin’s earliest beginnings. He taught himself how to read by age two and was up to Harry Potter by the time he was four years old. At nine, he began taking college credit courses at the University of Connecticut, graduated from Stanford University Online High School by 11, and enrolled full-time as a sophomore in the university by the age of 12. Colin is an honor student with a near-perfect 3.9 GPA.
The teen prodigy won the Truman Scholar, a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate studies. In addition to Truman Scholars program, he also received $7,500 from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships program.
Colin, who is by natural ecosystems, has traveled extensively exploring those systems. He has also testified on environmental matters before the Connecticut State Legislature. Colin has noted: “It’s important to have a very wide worldview. Biology is fundamentally about the diversity of life, with a focus across the planet.”
Colin wants to focus his career on environmental policy issues worldwide. He is well on his way.
8. Moshe Kai Cavalin, 15, California, USA
If you ask Moshe Kai Cavalin about being a genius, he will show his best scoff face. Says Moshe: “That’s always the question that bothers me. People need to know you don’t really need to be a genius. You just have to work hard and you can accomplish anything.”
Working hard must be part of his mantra because Moshe enrolled in college at eight and earned his first of two Associate of Arts degrees by age 11, graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Now 15 years of age, he’s a UCLA graduate of the Class of 2013, along with graduates ten years older, with a bachelor’s degree in math.
Moshe has published a book, We Can Do (Bookstand Publishing, 2011), in both Mandarin and English. He translated the book into English himself. The 100-page publication helps other young people accomplish what Moshe has accomplished by staying focused and tackling everything with total commitment.
Moshe notes his parents did not pressure him into 24/7 studying. On the contrary, he’s learned to scuba dive, do martial arts, and play soccer. He is also a big fan of Jackie Chan movies, when he does choose to watch TV. He admits, though, that completing his UCLA studies and his writing have limited his extracurricular activities.
The math wizard intends to go on to graduate school, aiming for a doctorate. Beyond that, the future is anyone’s guess. Moshe points out he is just a teenager and still has to wait until he is 16 to get a driver’s license.
9. Ainan Celeste Cawley, 13, Singapore
Ainan Celeste Cawley came into the world wasting no time—by six months, he was walking; by eight months, he was running; and at one year of age, he spoke in full sentences at an adult level.
Ainan, a science prodigy, gave his science lecture, “Acids and Alkalis in Everyday Life,” at a Singaporean school when he was only six years old.
At seven years and one month of age, Ainan passed O-level chemistry exams normally taken during the latter high school years. In 2008, he became the youngest student to study chemistry at tertiary level at a polytechnic school, taking courses and doing lab work at Singapore Polytechnic.
Ainan has taught himself biology and how to write computer scripts.
In 2010, Ainan’s family moved to Malaysia for a less-rigid higher education for the young whiz kid.
The Cawley family lives in Kuala Lumpur, where Ainan is enrolled in Taylor’s University’s American Degree Transfer Programme, which allows for flexible, broad-based learning. He is majoring in the sciences, but studying everything from computer programming and animation to mathematics and theater.
Ainan is a also gifted pianist and, in 2012, he composed the musical score for a 15-minute short film.
Ainan has two brothers, Fintan, nine, and Tiarnan, seven, who seem to be following in his prodigy footsteps . . . or, more likely, creating new paths of their own.
10. Sitan “Stan” Chen, 17, Georgia, USA
In 2011, Sitan Chen won third prize, a modest $40,000, in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for research that advanced studies in mathematical graphs and how computers multi-task data.
The 2011 win followed Sitan’s win in 2010 at the same competition. Sitan managed a team which shared the $20,000 prize for solving a math challenge which reportedly stumped mathematicians for 70 years. His double win set a record for Sitan as the first student in the 13-year history of the event to receive back-to-back Siemens Competition national awards.
He is also a talented violinist and pianist; he performed at Carnegie Hall not once, but six times. Sitan said he sees music as “a form of problem solving.” He adds: “It’s a chance to tackle challenges related to technique, structure, and interpretation using creativity and intellectual rigor, and at the same time, it’s a way to communicate what words cannot.”
Sitan is currently a freshman at Harvard studying economics and math. He’s a member of the Harvard Glee Club and an analyst in the Harvard College Consulting Group, providing consulting services for businesses, non-profit organizations, and student groups.
Sitan wants to become a university professor.
11. Nick D’Aloisio, 17, United Kingdom
Ya-ho-ooo! A great way to start the week: On Monday, March 25, 2013, Nick instantly became one of Britain’s richest teens, after he sold his news-reading-and-summarizing app, Summly, to Yahoo for an estimated purchase price of $30 million.
Nick, a programming and algorithm whiz kid, started coding at age 12. Now one of Yahoo’s youngest employees, he was not even born when Yahoo started up in 1994. Nick says: “I try to maintain a level of humbleness to all this.”
When asked by the British newspaper, the Guardian, if anyone could have created an app like Summly, Nick responded: “Absolutely. My family doesn’t have any particular wealth. We were an immigrant family, a generation above. It’s no longer an education thing—if you look at the top [tech company] founders in the world, half of them haven’t finished high school or university. So I don’t think an educational path thing comes into it. Similarly, location-wise, there are people in Asia and Africa doing companies.”
“I’ve still got a year and a half left at my high school,” he told the New York Times in March, 2013. So, he plans to test out of his classes and work from the Yahoo office in London.
When not working, Nick wants to keep his cricket game and other hobbies sharp. He hopes to attend Oxford, majoring in philosophy.
As for the big Yahoo payout, Nick added: “It’s going to be put into a trust fund and my parents will help manage it.” I’m sure Nick will be writing an algorithm to monitor those funds.
12. Eric Delgado, 18, New Jersey, USA
Just before 11th grade at Bayonne High, Eric Delgado worked with researchers at Jersey City Medical Center. The team studied the MRSA bug, a source of antibiotic-resistant infections, found especially in hospitals.
Fighting antibiotic-resistant germs means finding a way to offset the various tricks bacteria deploy to foil antibiotics. Some bacteria reject antibiotics through “pumps” embedded in their cellular membranes. Eric pondered: Could those pumps somehow be disabled?
Instead of working with dangerous pathogenic bacteria, Delgado focused on the common E. coli. One of Eric’s teachers helped Eric contact researchers for supplies and advice. Researchers were generous: One suggested lab techniques to avoid hazardous chemicals; another offered a plant compound known to disable pumps in other bacteria.
Over two years, Eric worked diligently on the project. The effort paid off. In 2008, Eric won fifth place at the Intel Science Talent Search. Eric said, “I’ve always had a natural curiosity for why things work, especially how a disease happens in your body. And the Internet definitely made it easier. You can do things kids from 10 years ago wouldn’t have been able to do.”
Eric currently attends Yale University.
13. Kathryn DiMaria, 14, Michigan, USA
People send her auto parts from all over the world, but she can’t get her driver’s license for another two years. In the meantime, Kathryn DiMaria is getting her ride ready. She is busy building the car of her dreams before she turns 16. She’s guardedly optimistic she will meet her deadline.
At 12 years of age, Kathryn convinced her parents to let her buy and begin restoring a 1986 Pontiac Fiero, using $450 in babysitting money. She is meticulously restoring the Fiero by hand, and picking up numerous mechanical skills such as grinding, welding, sandblasting, and upholstering.
With her dad and uncle as her restoration partners, she’s even learning how to rebuild a car engine. Kathryn’s rebuilding adventure crushes stereotypes right and left.
Via an online forum, Fiero lovers keep track of Kathryn’s progress, offer her advice, and cheer her on. Says her dad: “There’s nothing you can’t find out on the Fiero forum. People have contributed money, parts, knowledge. The Fiero community is very helpful. They always have been.”
Kathryn’s work earned her an invitation from General Motors to attend the 2013 Detroit Auto Show and hang out with two female engineers from the original Fiero team. Also, Auto Build magazine named her 2012 “Female Mechanic of the Year.”
You go, Kathryn!
14. Kelvin Doe, 16, Sierra Leone
When engineering wunderkind, Kelvin Doe, was just 11 years old, he started scouring trash containers and collecting scraps of metal and electronic parts. Eventually he gathered enough pieces to create mini generators. Totally self-taught, he fashioned together an amp, a mixer, and enough auxiliary equipment to launch a one-person radio station.
He broadcasts news and music to the residents of his childhood neighborhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone. His listeners know him as DJ Focus.
Fast Company magazine named Kelvin one of their “100 Most Creative People in Business 2013,” a remarkable tribute when you realize that Kelvin is the youngest among the 100 honorees.
“I am naturally curious,” Kelvin humbly states.
His curiosity takes him places. In fact, his first trip from his native Sierra Leone took him to MIT, where he worked on engineering projects last summer. Kelvin is the youngest person in history invited to MIT’s “Visiting Practitioner’s Program.” He was also a speaker at the 2013 TEDxTeen, and he has amazed thousands of YouTube viewers who have seen the short documentary about his inventions.
Kelvin has a clear mission: He wants to build a windmill to provide power for his Freetown neighbors, and he want to become a scientist to improve life for the citizens of Sierra Leone. “I love my country,” he says. “I love my people.”
15. Tim Doner, 17, New York, USA
English, French, Wolof, Hausa, Arabic, Russian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Pashto, Italian, Farsi, Chinese, Turkish, Indonesian, Swahili, Dutch, Xhosa, Hindi and Ojibwe: Tim Doner learned French at age 8 and has been teaching himself languages since he was 13. He now speaks 23 languages, in varying degrees of excellence.
Tim is a polyglot, a person who speaks multiple languages and studies the art of language. So, how fluent does a person have to be to say they speak a language?
Says Tim: “There is a lot of debate about what fluency in a language means. I’m not saying I can discuss philosophy or the tax system in 23 languages, but I’m aiming to be able to talk comfortably with a native speaker.”
And how does Tim keep his language skills fresh? He notes: “Between people on the street and subway and my classmates, I get in some 10–15 interactions per day. I also read 8–10 languages via newspapers each morning.”
Does Tim think he’s a genius? Not really. He says: “They all take a certain amount of effort and motivation. Every language has its own aspects and beauty.”
What will Tim do with all this language ability? He’s not quite sure yet and adds: “I might want to get involved with language education, translation, travel . . . I’m open to anything.”
16. Santiago Gonzalez, 14, Colorado, USA
According to some, Santiago Gonzalez might just be the next Steve Jobs. Santiago, fluent in a dozen different programming languages, already has 15 iOS apps for iPhone and iPad to his name, and dreams of one day of working at Apple.
At age 12, while in the sixth grade, Santiago became a full-time college student. As a junior at the Colorado School of Mines, he is expecting to earn his bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering by age 16 and his master’s by 17.
Santiago rises very early every morning and programs for an hour or so before heading off to his classes.
Santiago’s parents recognized his extraordinary abilities in elementary school when he became depressed over the lack of mental challenge and how people perceived his uniqueness. Luckily, they developed a course of study to nurture his gifts. Now he’ i quite proud of the label “computer nerd.”
When he is not programming, Santiago likes to crochet.
17. Nolan Gould, 14, California, USA
When most 14-year-old teens are moving from middle school to high school, Nolan Gould has not only starred on a hit TV show, but has graduated from high school and is starting college.
The opposite of his troublemaker character, Luke Dunphy, on Modern Family, Nolan is smart and focused on achieving. With an IQ of 150, the young actor is a member of Mensa; he’s also earning popularity and praise for his role on the award-winning show.
In an interview with Celebuzz, Nolan stated that it was “an honor and such a blessing” when Modern Family won its third consecutive Emmy award for Best Comedy Series.
As a member of the class of 2012, the grad was featured on the Ellen Degeneres Show to chat about his TV career and impressive academic record. Nolan told Ellen: “As I’m driving in my limo, I’m like, ‘Wait a second, I’m 13, and this is my third time at the Emmys.’ It’s like, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? It’s kind of all downhill from now.”
Still, Nolan enjoys being an almost-regular teen with multiple talents: He plays the banjo and dances.
18. Hou Yifan, 19, China
Born in Xinghua, China, in 1994, Yifan is a chess prodigy. Today, she is the Women’s World Chess Champion—a title she first won in 2010, at the age of 16, making her the youngest World Champion of either sex in history. But her entire career has been a litany of firsts.
Yifan has been fascinated by chess since the age of three, when she begged to be given a chess set, and promptly began to beat her parents after studying the game for only a few weeks.
At age six, she began playing regularly in tournaments in her home town. At age 10, she won first place in the World Youth Chess Championship for Girls. At 12, she became the youngest person ever to be invited to participate in the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Women’s Championship tournament.
In 2008, at the age of 13, she became the national champion of her native China, also the youngest ever. That same year, after turning 14, she qualified for Grandmaster, once again—need we say it?—the youngest person ever to attain that title in the women’s category (and one of the youngest in history, male or female).
After winning the Women’s World Championship in 2010, Yifan successfully defended her title the next year, lost it in 2012, and regained it in 2013. Today, she rates as the strongest female player in the world according to the FIDE scoring system, and is the youngest player in all of the top categories, male or female.
In 2012, Yifan came very close to beating Nigel Short, a former finalist for the Men’s World Chess Championship (defeated by Garry Kasparov for the world title in 1993). Will she become the first woman in history to become World Chess Champion tout court, beating the men at their own game? Many people think so.
Yifan was homeschooled by her mother, a former nurse. Her interests include reading and studying at the University of Beijing, where she is a sophomore.
Her favorite chess player of all time is Bobby Fischer.
19. Adam Holland, 17, Washington, DC, USA
In 2008, Adam Holland, together with his younger brother Jonathan, brainstormed moneymaking ideas which could help pay for their little sister’s tuition at a private school. He decided to launch a business they both would enjoy. After some informal market research, Adam founded AJ’s Hawaiian Iceez, a shaved ice dessert company.
An initial investment of $2000 from his parents allowed Adam to purchase a tent with three tables and basic supplies. Since then, Adam has significantly grown the business. Today he and his siblings travel with a mobile trailer which can quickly move from venue to venue—county fairs, arts festivals, music jams, and other events where people are gathered in hot weather. They set up at ~40 to 50 events a year.
AJ’s Hawaiian Iceez sells authentic Hawaiian shaved ice as an alternative to snow cones, ice cream, and other frozen desserts. Meticulous attention must be given to the production of the shaved ice—which has the consistency of snow—to allow the flavorings to be dispersed evenly throughout it. The business has yielded more than $100,000 over the past four summers.
Adam cites important factors for his success such as being customer focused and sustaining good relationships with the event coordinators where he sells his ices.
Besides ensuring his sister Zoe gets a good education, Adam is also committed to giving back to the community. He donates up to 60% of certain event sales to local schools and non-profits.
In 2011, Adam and Jonathan were named among Black Enterprise magazine’s Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. That summer, Adam spoke on entrepreneurship at Morgan State University.
In 2012, Ernst & Young and Junior Achievement of Greater Washington named Adam “the Greater Washington Youth Entrepreneur of the Year.” When receiving the award, Adam remarked: “My generation is destined to do great things. To my younger colleagues, be receptive, be creative, and be the change you want to see. To my elders, invest in young people. We are your future.”
A rising senior at the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland, Adam is hoping to get accepted into Harvard.
20. Joey Hudy, 16, Arizona, USA
At age 16, Joey Hudy has already met President Obama. In fact, the president helped Joey launch a marshmallow from his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon in the State Dining Room during the 2nd Annual White House Science Fair.
Joey’s motto is: Don’t be bored . . . make something!
Joey has won a number of awards for his engineering creations. His most recent invention was a solar-powered computer in the Sun Valley Solar Ultimate Challenge. He’s an active participant in Maker Faire.
Joey’s proudest creations to date are his two LED Arduino Shields—printed circuit expansion boards—that he hopes will introduce other kids to the concept of engineering for fun. He has started selling the Shields on several websites.
Joey is whizzing through his high school math and science track at Herberger Young Scholars Academy at Arizona State University, an accelerated school from which he will graduate next year.
Joey’s goal is to become an electrical engineer and maybe someday work for Maker Media, Inc. The folks at Maker Media, Inc., say they are patiently waiting for him to join them.
21. Saheela Ibraheem, 16, New Jersey, USA
At just 15 years old, Saheela Ibraheem was accepted into Harvard University, which makes her among the youngest students ever to attend that school. But that’s not the most impressive part, Saheela was accepted at 12 other colleges, including MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. In the end, Saheela chose Harvard, based on her seven-year-old brother’s advice. (Hint: He wants to attend Harvard, someday.)
Saheela’s Nigerian parents, totally supportive of the young scholar, sometimes taught her subjects the schools didn’t offer.
Saheela believes the key to success is knowing what you love to learn as early as possible, a knowledge she says she came to at age five. “If you are passionate about what you do, and I am passionate about many things, especially math and science, it will work out well.” The teen is also interested in languages, and knows Yoruba, Arabic, Spanish, and Latin, in addition to English.
On the lighter side, Saheela plays softball, soccer, and the trombone. She also sings in the school choir and serves as president of the school’s investment club. She has a SAT score of 2,340 SAT (a perfect 800 on the math section, a 790 in writing and a 750 in reading). Saheela plans to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience, and hopes to become a scientist in order to study how the brain works.
As for her own brain, Saheela claims she is nothing special. “I try my best in everything I do,” Saheela said. “Anyone who’s motivated can work wonders.”
22. Isha Jain, 17, Pennsylvania, USA
Ponder the word “accelerated.” In fifth grade, Isha Jain started a math camp for herself and others. By sixth grade, she tackled college-level work.
In the eighth grade, she took advanced calculus and aced the class. By ninth grade, Isha worked part-time in a biology lab at Lehigh University.
At 16, Isha was challenged to know more about how human limbs and growth spurts developed. Isha approached the problem by studying bone growth in zebra fish fins.
The journal Developmental Dynamics published her work and the project led to her winning the 2007–2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. Oh, and a cool $100,000 scholarship prize.
Isha credits her accomplishments to starting young. “I always liked science and math, but without being immersed in research, I wouldn’t have known it was what I wanted to do,” she says.
The math whiz is a freshman at Harvard and intends to go to medical school.
23. Erin King, 19, Georgia, USA
When Erin King, then a senior at Columbus High School, received her early acceptance letter to MIT, the college issued a challenge to the class of 2016: Try to “hack” your admission letters. However, they advised the future freshmen not to break into any of MIT’s secure networks, even though most of the newly accepted students probably knew how or could figure out how to do it.
Erin explained: “At MIT, hacking is basically performing a prank or just doing something really cool and unexpected.”
Erin had been active for years in her high school’s balloon launch research club. She is also a seasoned ham, or amateur, radio person and knew she could relay the balloon’s coordinates from a vehicle below. She had a “hacking” strategy: Send her acceptance letter into space or close as possible to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.
Her “hack” worked. Erin’s capsule containing the acceptance letter was fully loaded with a camera and tracking devices and touched down safely near her intended landing site, after reaching a maximum altitude of 91,000 feet (~17.2 miles). She had fun celebrating her admission and, Erin stated: “The project ended up getting a lot more publicity than I anticipated.”
Erin is definitely a ham: She has achieved the level of Extra, the highest distinction in ham radio operation and named the 2012 Amateur Radio Newsline‘s Young Ham of the Year.
Oh, yeah, Erin is also a robotics enthusiast, a cat lover, and a certified scuba diver.
Today, Erin is a sophomore at MIT where she studies computer science and electrical engineering. She is happy that she was able to bring Maui, her cat, along with her, since MIT has a few cat-friendly dorms.
24. Talia Leman, 17, Iowa, USA
At the age of 10, Talia organized children across the country to raise money and support for victims of Hurricane Katrina. She did not open a lemonade stand or organize a car wash (although we have nothing against either); she rallied kids around the globe to raise $10 million.
RandomKid, the nonprofit she created, has empowered 12 million children—approximately 50,000 to 100,000 annually—in 20 different countries to launch their own charitable efforts to solve real-life problems on four continents.
Through RandomKid, youth worldwide have provided medical supplies and healthy water, built schools, funded water pumps, and most importantly, promoted peace.
Talia is a recipient of the Jefferson Award, the International Youth Talent Award from the Government of Extremadura (Spain), and the World of Children Founder’s Youth Award—recognized as the “Nobel Prize” for work that serves the world’s children. Talia has also been honored by the U.S. Congress and she is a former national ambassador for UNICEF. RandomKid has been designated a United Nations Champion of Intercultural Innovation.
In 2008, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said of Leman: “If your image of a philanthropist is a stout, gray geezer, then meet Talia Leman, an eighth-grader in Iowa who loves soccer and swimming, and whose favorite subject is science. I’m supporting her for president in 2044.”
In 2012, Talia wrote A Random Book about the Power of ANYone, a Simon & Schuster publication.
Her iPod is full of her favorite music—everything from the Beatles to Disney tunes to Mozart.
Talia maintains an A average, is taking several AP courses, and is a member of her high school’s gospel choir. A competitive swimmer in the breast stroke, her swim coach, Steve Teter, said, Talia “puts her all into swimming and everything else she does.”
Talia is considering colleges and wants to study something science- or medicine-related, like her father. As she anticipates college, Talia says she’ll continue to stay involved and speak on RandomKid’s behalf, but adds: “I am working on a few partnerships to hand over some of RandomKid’s biggest projects to some other organizations.”
25. Jason Li, 15, California, USA
Jason Li, CEO, is the “Next Teen Tycoon.” In 2013, he won the Vertical Response competition for his online video about his start-up company iReTron.
The business buys used electronics from the public, overhauls them, and resells them. If he can’t sell it, he recycles it. “People send me a lot of things like iPads and calculators,” Jason said. “Sometimes I can’t pay them because the item is too old, but if I can, I pay them within 48 hours.”
A sophomore at Saratoga High School, Jason won the top award and $4,000 in prize money from a San Francisco-based email, social media, and event-marketing company. VerticalResponse asked teens nationwide to submit videos describing their business idea or company. Online viewers were asked to vote for their top 10 favorites. Business and tech executives, including VerticalResponse CEO Janine Popick, judged the top videos.
Popick gave Jason perfect score, and later commented: “I think iReTron appeals to a large market and has tons of potential. It’s good for business, good for the environment, and good for the end users abroad where there’s still demand for our ‘gently used’ technology.”
Jason says he has learned a lot about “reCommerce” since starting iReTron a few years ago. “It’s a great way for students to learn about the environment and what we can do to go green,” he said.
While Jason will admit that iReTron isn’t making a lot of money yet, it’s not losing money, either. “I always give the best price over the competition,” he said, and added: “My goal for this company is for it to be a multi-million-dollar business by the end of my college years. Everyone has big dreams.”
As part of his win, Jason also got a trip to New York City to attend 2013 TEDxTeen.
26. Lauren Marbe, 16, United Kingdom
“I am blonde, I do wear make-up, and I do go out. I love my fake tan and fake nails, as well . . .” So says the young teen, Lauren Marbe, who took the MENSA test just for fun with her fellow students from Roding Valley High School. She scored 161 on her IQ test: a point higher than the MENSA scores of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Bill Gates. The average IQ score is defined as 100.
The straight-A student likes to sing and “party.” Lauren is surprised so many other people, including her teachers, are surprised about her intelligence. She offers: “I love living in Essex and I’m glad that I might be able to show people that we aren’t all ditzy and blonde.”
Lauren is currently deciding between attending the University of Cambridge and majoring in architecture, or becoming an actor in London’s West End.
27. Dalumuzi Mhlanga, 20, Zimbabwe
Dalumuzi Mhlanga is a graduate of Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, an honors high school in Zimbabwe.
In 2010, Dalumuzi founded Lead Us Today, a non-profit organization that conducts leadership and empowerment training with Zimbabwe’s youth. He won the 2011 Forbes magazine College Social Innovator Award Winner, and has presented his goals for Lead Us Today at the 2011 Igniting Innovation Social Entrepreneurship Summit at Harvard University.
In 2012, Dalumuzi was recognized as one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Zimbabwe” award conferred by Junior Chamber International.
Dalumuzi strongly advocates for three core values for the youth of Zimbabwe to embrace: humility, courage, and curiosity. He believes by taking more risks, we can all contribute to making our world a better place.
Dalumuzi graduated from Harvard in May, 2013, and will teach a graduate school class at Harvard. He is a pragmatic, yet eloquently powerful speaker.
28. Neha Ramu, 13, United Kingdom
Neha Ramu, a native of Bangalore, India, lives in London and attends Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston upon Thames.
Last year, she acted like a typical girl: She loves spending time with friends, reading Harry Potter, and going to movies. Today, she’s as much of a celebrity as Harry Potter. She recently scored 162—the highest possible IQ score for those under 18—on the Mensa Test run by Mensa International, a society of people with high IQs. Brits bragged she trumped Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who are reported to have IQs of 160.
After receiving the news, she immediately began reading a biography about Albert Einstein. “He changed the world with his theories,” says Ramu. “I never thought about being smarter than Einstein; I know I am not.”
Neha scored a 740 out of 800 on the math SAT, which won her a spot in the “Study of Exceptional Talent” program at the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Neha, a CTY member for a few years, attended a three-week course at the center in 2012 on “Sensation and Perception.” She also completed several Johns Hopkins math and science courses online.
Neha wants to be a neuroscientist—a specialist in the study of the brain and nervous system. She adds humbly: “I had always thought I would find a cure for cancer, but now I may try to find cures for other brain-related diseases.”
She also plans to join the Army Cadet Force, a British youth organization focused on military training. She recently told the BBC: “If I don’t put in my effort and make use of my IQ, there is no point in having it.”
Neha is not just all IQ and science. She spends time swimming, reading, and watching TV. Her newest interests are space and astronomy, thanks to an online course in that arena.
And now that she has hit the teen years, she is getting into Facebook and designing her first profile.
29. Shouryya Ray, 17, Germany
When you are very smart, you are often surrounded by publicity—good and not-so-good.
That was the case with Shouryya Ray, when the media widely reported last year that he had solved an unsolved problem presented by Sir Isaac Newton more than 350 years ago.
Shouryya, who was born in India and is now living in Germany, was in an internship at the Technische Universität Dresden. His work, which involved new methods for solving two equations in particle dynamics which previously could only be partially solved by using computers, was initially accepted by numerous professional, adult mathematicians.
At first, the media picked up on this seemingly astounding accomplishment for a 16-year-old, and had a field day. Then—as often happens in science—another paper pulled the rug out from under Shourrya.
Jürgen Voigt, a math professor at TU Dresden, and a colleague, Professor Ralph Chill, published a report in which they attempted to present Shouryya’s work and compare it with results from preexisting literature. Regrettably, they found that Shouryya’s “new” solutions turned out to be largely already known to advanced experts in mathematics. In effect, the teen had reinvented the wheel.
Voigt underscored that Shouryya had produced exceptional work which should be valued, since he is a 16-year-old high school student generating concepts at a professional mathematician’s level.
We are guessing that Shouryya will not be deterred by this setback, and will not stop until he has taken Sir Isaac to the apple tree and back.
30. Gabriel See, 15, Washington, USA
At age eight, Gabriel See taught himself calculus and physics from the Internet, but people took serious notice when Gabriel scored a 720 out of 800 score on the SAT math test.
When he was nine years of age, he raced through high-school Advanced Placement math and science classes—calculus, statistics, physics, chemistry, and biology—scoring a perfect 5 in each subject.
At age 10, Gabriel worked on T-cell receptor research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. When he was 11, he won a silver medal at a competition on synthetic biology for undergraduate college students at MIT.
In 2010, he started taking upper-level math classes at University of Washington, and now takes graduate math courses. Gabriel has completed more than enough hours of graduate level courses to get a master’s degree in applied mathematics.
Gabriel’s parents want to keep him engaged, but recognize that, because of his age, he is not always emotionally ready to handle courses designed for older students. They also want him to have a teenage life, so Gabriel attends Renaissance School of Art and Reasoning, an arts-oriented junior high school, where on half-days he takes drama, language arts, and dance.
When he is not in school, Gabriel swims at the YMCA, takes music classes, or plays Ultimate Frisbee.
In 2011, at age 13, Popular Science magazine named Gabriel one of the nation’s top 10 high school inventors. That is especially noteworthy since technically See is not even in high school yet!
We are confident we’ll be hearing and See-ing more about this teen in the years to come.
31. Nur Muhammad Shafiullah, 17, Bangladesh
Nur Muhammed Shafiullah, a teen mathematician, is the youngest student from Bangladesh to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad and in the International Olympiad in Informatics.
In Bangladesh, Nur holds a number of math Olympiad records, earning the highest score at the Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad three years in a row.
In 2012, Nur received a bronze medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad in Argentina.
Beyond competing in math, Nur works at math camps in Bangladesh, and is a moderator of a Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad online student forum.
He wants to study computer science or biology in college abroad, when he has completed high school.
32. Kensen Shi, 17, Texas, USA
Kensen Shi, a senior at A&M Consolidated High School, in College Station, Texas, is a member of the high school swim team, school recycling director, president of the math club, and captain of the Science Bowl team.
Kensen won the 2012 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology National Finals, as well as the $100,000 Grand Prize in the Individual category for co-authoring a paper on a more efficient method of motion planning, which has application to animation, robotics, and game design. Kensen also placed sixth in the Intel Science Talent Search in 2013, and competed in a number of U.S. Math Olympiads.
The teen whiz also has a passion for playing the piano, and has placed in many musical competitions. He won the National Piano Audition from the National Guild of Piano Teachers—not once, but twice.
For fun, Kensen likes solving Rubik’s Cubes.
Currently, Kensen is conducting research at the Parasol Laboratory at Texas A&M University. He plans to major in computer science at Stanford University.
33. Raghav Sood, 15, India
In 2011, Raghav received his first Android device, immediately began working on his first Android app, and he has not stopped since.
He has developed 10 apps that cumulatively hae had 100,000+ downloads.
Raghav is founder/CEO of Appaholics LLC. In 2012, he published his first book, Pro Android Augmented Reality, by Apress LLC, USA. The book is part of Apress’s professional series on Android, and ranked 12th on Amazon among 1800+ books on gaming and 31st among 1500+ books on mobiles and handheld devices. Raghav is currently working on his second book, to be entitled Pro Android UI.
CNBC featured Raghav in a segment called “Computer Whizkid Story.” In 2012, he won the Blackberry Hackathon, and was featured in the keynote address of Blackberry 10 Developers Conference, where he was the youngest developer to present a Blackberry 10 App.
Raghav is a 10th grade student at the Shri Ram School in Delhi, India. He represented his school in the national-level Inter School Robotics competitions, and is a State Science Talent Scholar.
Raghav is interested in robotics, physics, and mathematics. He is an avid reader, and maintains his own photography website.
He wants to pursue a career in artificial intelligence.
34. Stephen R. Stafford II, 16, Georgia, USA
You will find Stephen R. Stafford II’s Facebook page fascinating enough. While many teens his age are skimping homework for Facebook time, Stephen is earning credits toward his triple major—pre-med, computer science, and mathematics—at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Stephen started at Morehouse College at 11 years of age because his mother, who was homeschooling him, could not keep up with his potential. The college student is also a talented classical pianist; he began to play the piano at the age of two.
When asked about his exceptional abilities, the teen replies: “I’m just like any other kid. I just learn very, very quickly.”
Due to a Georgia law which requires a student to be 16 to graduate from high school, Stephen will receive his high school diploma one year before he receives his college degrees. The talented teen intends to go on to Morehouse’s School of Medicine, specializing in obstetrics and infertility.
He should graduate from medical school when he is 22.
35. Marissa Stephens, 16, Indiana, USA
Marissa Stephens is one of the top young female mathematicians in the U.S., scoring in the 99th percentile of women who take the demanding AIME math exam. She has also taken 11 Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and won the AP Siemens Award for Indiana.
Marissa’s love of math emerged when she was eight years old, in summer math camp. At this camp, problems were converted into creative and entertaining activities, such as water balloon fights and watermelon seed spitting contests.
Marissa, who currently attends North Central High School in Indianapolis, states: “I’ve been participating in math competitions since elementary school math bowl. I really enjoy the AIME since it is a problem-solving math competition and the answers always seem to take a little creativity to solve.”
Marissa has discovered another problem to solve: how to get more girls and women interested in math. In these summers at math camp, she realized there were equal numbers of girls and boys but, as she got older, she observed a significant change:
At the end of my eighth grade year, I looked around the room and realized I was the only girl out of 20 or so students. Sadly, this gross under-representation of girls tends to be the norm in extra-curricular math, rather than the exception. In the higher math exams and competitions—such as the AIME, USAMO, HMMT, and ARML—almost all of the participants and top scorers are male. As a female interested in math and science, I find the lack of female participation appalling.
Marissa sees herself as a role model and works to inspire younger female students to engage in math and science. To further her goal, she developed MathMania, a free student-led math camp for middle school students. “MathMania has enabled me to pass on my love of math to the next generation of male and female students alike,” said Marissa.
The teen whiz kid pursues physical challenges as well. A member of the cross-country and track teams at her high school, she has also competed in various rock-climbing competitions. At the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Junior World Climbing Competition in France, she placed eighth in her category.
Marissa is preparing to attend MIT following her high school graduation.
36. Lawrence Sun, 16, Oregon, USA
Math, physics, and computer science . . . Lawrence Sun masters them all.
Lawrence got involved in science when he was a sixth grader, entering a Middle School Science Fair sponsored by the Society for Science and the Public (SSP). He was named a national finalist, traveled to Washington, DC, and had a Minor Planet (25326) named after him.
Lawrence also qualified for the U.S. Junior Math Olympiad and the U.S. Math Olympiad in eighth and ninth grades, respectively. He also enjoys computer science, having competed in the U.S. Computer Olympiad in 2012 and made it to the silver level.
Lawrence presented at the 2012 IEEE ISMVL conference in Victoria, British Columbia, and he was one of 20 students invited to participate on the 2012 United States Physics Team. At the 2012 International Symposia on Multi-Valued Logic, Lawrence presented his published research on the use of robot programming techniques to find contradictions in laws governing police use of force.
He captained his team in the 2013 Winter Online Math Open, which placed first out of 119 competing teams.
Like many of his fellow teens on this list, Lawrence will head to MIT this fall, forgoing his high school graduation at Catlin Gabel School in Portland. He plans to major in physics, computer science, or mathematics.
After MIT, Lawrence plans to pursue a career in research in academia or for technology development.
37. Andrey Sushko, 18, Washington, USA
Andrey Sushko was born in Russia, raised in England, and has been living in the U.S. for the last few years. Currently, he is first in his class of 391 at Hanford High School in Richland, WA. He said he has never spent more than five years in the same home.
In 2012, Andrey won second place and a $75,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation for his revolutionary work in micro-robotics. He invented and built a tiny, yet extremely powerful motor that runs on water surface tension.
Says Andrey: ” The goal of this project was to develop and demonstrate a new motor design that may be able to greatly outperform conventional motors at smaller scales.” He hopes his design “may prove to be very useful for microscopic robotic devices, leading to a variety of medical or industrial applications.”
An avid sailor, Andrey has logged hundreds of hours of experience on the water. He says he loves working on “almost anything in 3D,” including radio-controlled model boats. His interest in model boats led to him looking at micro-robotics in a new way.
“This project grew out of observations that I made while working on some of my models,” Andrey said. “I found that my smaller ships tended to stick to the sides of my bath (or sink, or teacup, depending on their size). I attributed this effect to the surface tension of water—the same force that drives my motor design.”
The teen has filed for a Guinness World Record for the smallest radio-controlled sailing yacht.
Andrey credits his love of science to his scientist parents. He interns at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and will attend Stanford University, majoring in engineering physics.
38. Adora Lily Svitak, 16, Washington, USA
Adora Svitak is an internationally published author of essays, stories, poems, blogs, and full-length books.
A voracious reader since age three, by four her writing was limited only by her handwriting and spelling. Her introduction to the public occurred at age six, when she was recognized for her exceptional writing abilities.
Her book, Flying Fingers, explains Adora’s passion for language and offers tips and hints for other aspiring writers.
At seven years of age, Adora began writing blogs and an online journal, expounding on national and international issues which interested her. Adora’s second book, Dancing Fingers—written with her older sister Adrianna, a musician—was published in 2008. Her first full-length novel, Yang in Disguise, was published in 2011.
Adora spoke at the 2010 TED Conference, explaining “why the world needs more ‘childish’ thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity, and optimism.” A strong advocate for literacy, she has lectured to large audiences of students and adults nationwide and in the UK. Adora also served as a spokesperson for the Verizon Reads campaign for literacy.
Adora created an online literary magazine called Write with Adora (WWA), which she says is “a place for the works of youth literati.” It includes poetry, literary criticism and reviews, short stories, and creative non-fiction.
Adora’s current ambition is to win a Nobel Prize, either in literature or peace. We’ll be checking back, Adora.
39. Achille Tenkiang, 17, Delaware, USA
Achille Tenkiang, a high school junior at Wilmington Charter School, created in his parents’ garage a working microbial fuel cell that converts mud into electricity. The school project won the teen the 2011 U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge and made Achille a finalist in the International BioGENEius Challenge.
For his research, Achille received a silver medal in engineering at the Delaware Valley Regional Science Fair. Achille continues his research on microbial fuels at the University of Delaware.
Achille placed sixth in the state and thirteenth in the nation in the National French Exam, and was also inducted into the National French Honor Society. He also plays the trombone.
The teen whiz kid is clearly committed to community service. After hearing about the devastation in Haiti, he helped to pack over 100 rescue kits for earthquake victims; he also helped raise over $3000 for victims of the Japanese earthquake.
Achille co-founded the URM (Under Represented Minorities) Cultural Awareness Club at his school, and founded the nonprofit Roots Scholars Foundation to provide educational opportunities in Cameroon, his parents’ native country.
Achille is a well-rounded teen. His Google Page says: “I’m that weird, supah cool, surprisingly intelligent kid.” In a video featuring him as a 2012 Young Futurist, he says: “I want to leave this world knowing that I left it a better place, made a difference, big or small.”
Achille intends to be a chemical or environmental engineer, helping developing nations to effectively use technology.
40. Dylan Toh, 13, Singapore
From his early years, Dylan Toh constantly looked for greater challenges in mathematics than his grade or teachers could provide. Even his math mentors in Singapore could not out-pace his abilities.
In searching the Internet for challenging problems, Toh discovered brilliant.org; the organization matched him with a mentor, Farrell Wu, at the University of Michigan.
Under Wu, Dylan studied abstract linear algebra and performed at levels at age 12, according to Wu, which put the young student “in the highest level of scholarship offered at top-tier American universities.”
Toh currently trains for competitions in table tennis, mathematics, and robotics in Singapore.
41. Nithin Tumma, 18, Michigan, USA
Nithin Tumma received first prize, a noteworthy $100,000, in the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search. Nithin’s project focused on the role of protein pathways in breast cancer. One judge noted that Nithin’s research could eventually lead to improved treatment therapies for the cancer.
Nithin’s grandfather was an agricultural scientist in India, who inspired him to seek answers to unanswered scientific questions.
An accomplished tennis player, Nithin was a member of his high school varsity tennis team. He also co-founded and captained his high school robotics team, founded a district-wide math circle for gifted students, as well as a research club for middle school children, and was the leading scorer on his varsity Quiz Bowl team.
The Port Huron Northern High School graduate, first in his class of 332, is attending Harvard, where he is studying math and computer science. Nithin plans to pursue a career in computational biology.
For now, he is working on Butucu, a startup he developed with friends, which involves digitizing the in-store shopping experience.
Be on the lookout: Butucu might soon be in a store near you!
42. Sarah Volz, 17, Colorado, USA
Cheyenne Mountain High School senior Sarah Volz was at the 2012 White House Science Fair when a reporter asked: “Exactly what is growing under your bed that’s going to save the planet?” Sara’s answer: “Algae.”
Sarah’s science project focused on proving algae could produce more oil for cheaper biofuels, which can be used in diesel engines.
Sarah really did keep glass flasks under her loft bed to cultivate various types of algae. Hybridizing the algae over generations, she yielded algae strains with high oil-producing ability. When asked what her parents thought of her bedroom laboratory, Volz quipped, “They’re happy that I moved everything out of the kitchen.”
After participating in Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair for three years running, Sarah took home the $100,000 grand prize at the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search in Washington, DC.
Sarah’s headed to MIT in the Fall 2013. The dorm mother should probably check under her bed after she moves in.
43. Ari Weinstein, 18, Pennsylvania, USA
Ari Weinstein learned HTML at seven years of age. At 11 years of age, he put an operating system onto his iPod Mini to play Game Boy on it. At 13 years of age, he hacked into the operating system of his iPod touch. That was his first official “jailbreak,” the term for dismantling an operating system’s protections and gaining access to it.
When he was 14, Ari joined a group of whiz kids called the “Chronic Dev Team,” who were interested in reverse engineering. When the iPhone came out in 2009, Ari and the Chronic Dev Team joined with another group, the “iPhone Dev Team” to “jailbreak” the iPhone.
Ari’s questionable “jailbreaks” were not a result of teenage “acting out” or ill-will towards Apple. He just wanted the products—for which he holds a tremendous amount of respect—to reveal their full ability. He says: “I think Apple places artificial limits on devices. ‘Jailbreaking’ is a way of un-limiting what you can do with technology.”
Ari continues to associate with the Dev team, although his recent efforts are much less controversial. Now, he wants to develop websites and businesses of his own.
Ari has learned a few other lessons along the way. He claims to have created a web-based business when he was younger, but, due to lack of experience in finance and marketing, his team could not bring it to market before another company released a similar product.
Currently working for a startup in California that is developing expanded wireless Internet access, Ari continues to ponder ways to improve operating systems.
A graduate of Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, Ari will attend MIT to study electrical engineering and computer science.
44. Brittany Wenger, 18, Florida, USA
Not many teens have presented at TEDx Talks even once, much less four times! Brittany Wenger has.
Brittany, a high-school senior at the Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota, is advancing the diagnosis of breast cancer in big ways: She is making it more accurate and less invasive.
Brittany began researching neural networks in the seventh grade. In 2012, she won the grand prize in the Google Science Fair for her project, “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer.”
Her Cloud4Cancer service collects data from biopsies done with the fine-needle aspiration process instead of the traditional surgical option. In preliminary trials, the service achieved 99.11% sensitivity to malignancy, and in more than 7.6 million trials, results have proven the network gets better with the addition of more data. Delivered as a cloud service, Cloud4Cancer is available to every hospital in the world.
Brittany has recently turned her scientific attention to leukemia. Her work with leukemia shows the Cloud4Cancer service can be altered for multiple cancer classifications.
Brittany received recognition at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which assembled 1,600 high school finalists from all over the world to compete for millions of dollars in awards.
Brittany has received numerous awards: A $3,000 award in the competition’s computer-science category, Go Daddy’s $1,500 Data Award, Google’s CS Connect $10,000 award, and a $500 award from the IEEE Computer Society. To add to her honors and winnings, she won eighth place and $20,000 in Intel’s 2013 Science Talent Search for her breast-cancer work.
Brittany will attend Duke University, and says she wants to be a pediatric oncologist. Continuing her research, she wants to help scientists seeking cures for cancer.
45. Taylor Wilson, 19, Nevada, USA
Taylor Wilson is a nuclear scientist. At 14, he became the youngest person to produce nuclear fusion. He built a working fusion reactor in his garage. He was originally trying to make a star back then and reflects: “I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar, and I ended up . . . making things that I think can change the world.”
For three years, Taylor dominated the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, winning nine awards, including First Place Award in the Physics and Astronomy Category, Best of Category Award, and the Intel Young Scientist Award.
He earned overseas trips and more than $100,000 in prizes. In 2012, Wilson’s inventive plans received more support when he received the $100,000 Thiel Prize.
Taylor designed a device capable of detecting nuclear material in cargo containers and, upon invitation, traveled to Washington for a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security’s Under Secretary of Energy, Kristina Johnson. According to Johnson, the encounter left her “stunned.” Johnson reportedly said “I would say someone like him comes along maybe once in a generation. He’s not just smart; he’s cool and articulate. I think he may be the most amazing kid I’ve ever met.”
Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Energy, the device is being field-tested for use. A new prototype creates radioactive isotopes in a small device which could help in how and where cancer treatments are managed. Taylor believes nuclear fusion is a solution to our future energy needs. He also believes kids can change the world. Now he wants to save our seaports from nuclear terror.
At TED 2013, Taylor presented his ideas about building small self-contained underground nuclear fission reactors, which use decommissioned nuclear weapons to create power. Recently, he temporarily put aside the research on the fusion reactor to design a compact molten salt reactor he claims could supply ~50 MW of power and would only need refueling once every 30 years.
When he’s not inventing in his Arkansas home garage, Taylor attends the Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada.
46. Farrell Wu, 13, Philippines
Farrell Wu was already doing math at the age of one. By three, he was trading stocks!
In 2011, Farrell, now a high school sophomore at New Life Christian Academy, won the gold medal as Champion in Theory in Math in the Elementary Mathematics International Competition (EMIC) for grade school students.
In 2012, at 12 years old, Farrell won the 2012 Australian Mathematics Competition (AMC) with a perfect score. He placed third in the 2013 Philippines Mathematical Olympiad, earning him the opportunity to represent the Philippines at the 54th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), July, 2013, in Columbia. The IMO is the most prestigious and most difficult math competition in the world.
According to his American math mentor, Farrell is already at the level of an exceptional undergraduate math major. Farrell says, through math he has learned to be a humble winner and a courageous loser. Farrell hopes to continue his studies in mathematics in the U.S., aiming for a career in investment banking.
In the meantime, Farrell’s fantasy is to win a gold medal for the Philippines at the IMO. Maybe that is not such a fantasy!
47–49. The Yip Kids: Bryan, 20; Michelle, 18; and Anthony, 10; Singapore
Sometimes, in a family, genius runs in twos . . . or threes. In the case of Bryan, Michelle, and Anthony Yip of Singapore, three’s the charm.
According to the Straits Times, Singapore’s leading newspaper, “Most students in Singapore usually sit for their O-level exams at 16, or older, if they went through the Normal stream. Junior college students are usually 18 when they sit for the A-level exams.”
In 2007, when siblings Bryan and Michelle Yip (pictured above left, with their parents) were 14 and 12, respectively, they sat for their O-level exams and earned 15 distinctions between them. A year later, Brian received all A’s on his A-level exams with distinctions in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. His sister Michelle, then 13, scored straight A’s in nine exams to receive her complete O-level certificate.
For all their intellectual firepower, Bryan’s and Michelle’s younger brother, Anthony, is outpacing them. In 2012, at nine years of age and a Primary four pupil at Henry Park Primary School, he took two O-level mathematics exams and scored A’s in both.
Due to being bullied for being too smart, Anthony (pictured at right, with his sister and parents) finished much earlier than his older peers, but did not want to draw attention to himself by handing in his paper first. He says: “I waited till the first person handed in the paper, then I handed in mine.”
According to his dad: “Anthony read the encyclopedia at age five, was talking to me about Graham’s number and how to derive the formula for Pythagoras’s theory at seven.”
Stil, not yet a tween, Anthony enjoys childhood—being happy and playing computer games.
Bryan, now 20, is a medical student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, while Michelle, now 18, is studying medicine at Cambridge University in the UK.
50. Angela Zhang, 16, California, USA
Angela Zhang could potentially help cure cancer. At the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology, Angela took home the grand prize—a $100,000 scholarship—for her project, which was called “Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled, Drug Releasing, Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells.”
Angela developed a multi-functional nanoparticle system: It can target tumors, eradicate cancer cells, and monitor treatment responses, all at the same time. She said that it took years to come up with the idea, after reading countless research articles and attending a myriad of scientific talks.
Says Angela: “At the heart of my nanosystem is its drug delivery capabilities. My nanoparticle was designed to be preloaded with a cancer drug that would be released directly and selectively at the tumor site to eradicate cancer cells. The greatest advantage that a drug delivery system has over many current cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, which tends to attack cancer and healthy cells, is minimization of toxicity to non-malignant/healthy cells.”
Angela enjoys reading, kayaking, and hiking. She has a personal goal of reading every novel on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list. “I adore Fitzgerald,” she said. “In fact, after winning the competition, I begged my mom if I could buy a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby.”
A graduate of Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California, Angela will enter Harvard in Fall 2013.
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Alas, being a genius or prodigy does not necessarily mean life is perfect. Having any special gift brings its challenges. To offer some insight into what the life of a teenage genius might be like, here’s a blog note written by one:
“Hi. I have a name. Doesn’t everyone? But I would prefer it to remain undisclosed, thus I’m writing under the pen name ‘Elizabeth Cady Stanton.’ I thought it was appropriate, since I’m a feminist.
“I bet a majority of people believe that being a genius is all fun. The stereotypes of being gifted supply that. Many people believe that all people with an IQ over 130 can get 99.9% of all answers right in school. All geniuses are bad at sports and are socially awkward.
“Well, let me tell you. There are multiple forms of ‘genius.’ Some people of the intellectually gifted variety are not ultra-good at math. That was just Einstein’s preference. If every genius specialized in math, then the mathematics field, in all its understandable glory, would be amazingly advanced, while every other field, English, philosophy, etc., would remain extremely far behind. That’s why we are spread out a little. Granted, most geniuses that I know are better in math and science, but that’s just happenstance.
“Geniuses also can get things wrong. Sometimes intentionally. Constant perfection (or close to it) often leaves geniuses socially ostracized. Which isn’t so pleasant when you’re sitting alone at lunch. We learned from our predecessors that there is nothing wrong with having normal friends to compare cultural notes with (of course, we don’t state it like that to them).
“All people of higher intelligence are not bad at sports. Many of us find that we become even more brilliant in society’s eyes if we are spectacular in many different fields. What’s more impressive than a science genius who can also play football? Nothing adds a shine to the good ol’ college resume like double splendor.
“Another secret: most geniuses are quite vain. I’m sure you’ve already figured that out by reading this, though.
“I am not a science genius, nor am I a math-oriented mind. Instead, I am an English genius. Didn’t see that one coming did you? My field defies most stereotypes, though I would like to remind all of you about other geniuses, like Hemingway and King. Being an English type of person is quite difficult, especially when it comes to measuring IQ. The system that we use today to measure intelligence stops in accuracy after about 120. From there on, it is nearly impossible to correctly measure intelligence. After all, how can you measure creativity and imagination? Aren’t those forms of intelligence, as well?
“I also share the belief with other geniuses that, to be actually brilliant, one must focus on many different fields. Not only do I focus on English, but I enjoy dabbling in History, Philosophy, Rowing, Speech and Debate, Running, Singing, Acting, Modeling, etc.
“That’s all for now—Erini (Peace)”
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If you are under 21, you still have a chance to make this list or one like it, one day. Here are a few suggestions to bring out your genius and inspire you to greatness:
- Mensa International, www.mensa.com: Try out some of the tests on their website to see how you compare to others
- Get involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities at your high school; join a local math or science team to participate in science fairs, tournaments, and olympiads
- Seek out advanced placement (AP) courses and other ways of challenging your mind and natural abilities
- Do you have a specific passion, hobby, or talent? Look for ways to stretch your interests, develop your skills, and compete with talented people
Don’t stress out over this, though.
Pushing yourself to higher levels of intellectual achievement still may not make you smarter than Einstein—some of this is simply genetics (or Providence)—but one thing is for sure: If you do participate in these activities, life will be a whole lot more interesting!