Tuesday, March 22, 2011

12 year old Physics Genius has Asperger's syndrome

When Jacob Barnett was 3 years old his parent brought him to visit Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University.  When the speaker at the planetarium asked the audience why the moons around Mars were potatoe shaped, not round.

Jacob raised his hand and asked "What are the masses of the moons?"

After the researcher explained the masses, Jacob answered the question, that the gravity of the moon was insufficient compared to the gravity of Mars to pull the moon into a spherical configuration.


And do you want to know the real head shaker is?  At age 3 Jacob was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder.  Later is his early life, he was struggling in school, withdrawing and basically having a very tough time.  His parents took him for his third psychological evaluation 2 years ago.

The psychologist recommended a radical change in his schooling.  Instead of making him stay in public school, bored to tears and frustrated, the psychologist recommended that Jacob should receive instruction at the proper level of his knowledge.  He needed to take PhD level classes in math, physics and astrophysics. 

Truly amazing.

Now Jacob is set to start doing research on cosmology and astrophysics.  He has his own questions.  He actually questions the big bang.  He claims to have done a calculation, using big bang nucleosynthesis, of how long it would take to create 2 percent of the universe's carbon.  He finds a value on the order of nanoseconds to microseconds. Much too fast.

I read that he has a youtube video explaining some things about the big bang and some of his own original ideas, but I was unable to find it.

While this is a truly great human interest story, what I find compelling is the Asperger's syndrome portion of the tale.  Let me be clear, he is not a savant.  He has Asperger's syndrome, a well defined medical syndrome. 

It may be well defined, but the whole autism spectrum is so poorly understood.  Many people have many misconceptions about autism in general.  Not every kid with Asperger's or autism is good at math or art or anything really.  Some of them will function very well in society.  Some of them may not ever get to live on their own.  Their brains are fundamentally different than a normal brain for some reason.  I am not even close to an expert on autism or Asperger's.  But I do hold the hope that we can come to better understand the autistic brain through science and medicine.  I really think if we can come to understand how the Autistic brain develops it will lead to great insight into normal brain function and cognitive neuroscience.

This post based on the article by Dan McFeely published in the IndyStar on March 20, 2011.


  1. That is in sane, I actually did some digging and found the documentary (sort of) that his mom put together about him. Here it is if you're interested. http://www.youtube.com/user/mathboysmom#p/a/u/2/YExiNNVNKZI

  2. Thanks CP! I searched for a little while, but couldn't find anything. He seems to be a pretty well adjusted kid. Which I think is awesome.


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