Physics Whiz Kid Doesn’t Let Asperger’s Slow Him Down

Jacob Barnett, a 12-year-old boy from Hamilton County, Indiana, has caught the attention of researchers from some of the most prestigious universities in the country with his challenge to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Jacob grasps some of the most complex concepts in mathematics and physics. Instead of junior high school, he attends Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where there is a movement to get him on board as a paid research assistant. Recently, he created a YouTube video in which he explains his work, using markers on the windows of his home to show the mathematical calculations behind some of his ideas. Not bad for a boy who didn’t speak his first words until after his second birthday and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder, a mild form of autism. But then again: Einstein didn’t speak until age four, and many psychiatrists now believe that he may have had Asperger’s disorder, as well.

Early on, Jacob’s parents were concerned that he might have problems in school. “Oh my gosh, when he was two, my fear was that he would never be in our world at all,” Jacob’s mother told The Indianapolis Star last month. “He would not talk to anyone. He would not even look at us.” Instead, his abilities have soared. He taught himself algebra, geometry, and calculus, leaving high school at age eight and enrolling at IUPUI, where he is currently studying and excelling in his advanced physics and mathematics courses.

Although they give him plenty of opportunities to explore his interest in physics, Jacob’s parents also insist that he spend time with friends his own age. He plays video games and basketball with friends; he has a girlfriend and he recently attended his first dance.

In his YouTube video, Jacob explains his expanded hypothesis, based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Professors at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey have followed Jacob’s work with interest. “The theory that he’s working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics,” Professor Scott Tremaine wrote to Barnett’s family.

Jacob’s professors at IUPUI agree. “We have told him that after this semester . . . enough of the bookwork. You are here to do some science,” physics professor John Ross told The Indianapolis Star. “If we can get all of those creative juices in a certain direction, we might be able to see some really amazing stuff down the road.”

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