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5 Famous Scientists That Started Their Work as Young Teens

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Not all of history’s most significant scientists were college graduates when they began their works. In fact, history is full of scientists who have shaped the world due to their work as teenagers. If they were disregarded simply because of their age, many things we take for granted today may not exist. Through their own determination and thirst for knowledge, these teenagers impacted the world far greater than they would realize long after their deaths.

1. Isaac Newton - During Newton’s formative years, it was common place for the young man to develop various devices while attending school. His devotion to studies and high marks in school were impressive to many. Although his mother attempted to make a farmer of him by removing young Isaac from school, the schoolmaster and his uncle suggested to his mother that he return to school to finish his education. Isaac Newton attended Cambridge University upon finishing school in 1661. He developed a variety of scientific methods and discoveries including those in optics and colors.

 

2. Albert Einstein - In his younger years, Albert Einstein had always shown a great interest in mathematics and science. Einstein attended the Swiss Federal Polytechnic examinations in Zurich. Although his scores were below standard in many of the required subjects, his mathematics and physics skills were exceptionally high. From there, Albert Einstein attended Aargau Cantonal School in Aarau, Switzerland where he graduated with passing grades in some subjects and receiving the highest grade scale possible in mathematics and physics. His theories have laid the ground work for many scientists of today and is most notable for the Theory of Relativity.

3. Galileo Galilei - While at the University of Pisa studying for a medical degree at the age of 17, Galileo Galilei became enthralled with how movements of air currents could cause a chandelier to sway in a rhythmic pattern. Setting up a set of differentiating pendulums, Galileo discovered that regardless of the size difference the pendulums kept time with each other. The young man changed his degree from medical sciences to mathematics after attending a lecture on geometry. A the age of 22, Galileo published a book on the design of a hydrostatic balance he had invented.

4. Aristotle - In the 3rd Century BCE, Aristotle had made great contributions to nearly every subject of study. At the age of 18, he attended Plato’s Academy where he studied nearly every subject offered at the time. For 20 years he remained at the Academy until eventually quitting. With his vast knowledge of subject material, Aristotle had completed encyclopedias of information opening the doors for many.

5. Blaise Pascal - Did you know that your Windows-based computer system has a tool installed that was invented 350 years ago? Blaise Pascal began work on calculating devices and prototypes at the age of 16, in 1642. Although the centuries have developed calculators that are digital, solar powered, scientific, and software-based Pascal set the wheels in motion with the development of earlier versions of our calculating devices. What computer or smartphone would be complete without a calculator of some kind?

It goes to show that discouraging a child from using his or her imagination and exploring other possible answers to questions could have repercussions in the future of humanity. The argument can be made that if one person hadn’t invented a particular theory or device, someone else would have. However, could we believe that it would be the same product if it came from a completely different perspective of a different inventor?

Ken Myers About the Author: Ken Myers is an expert advisor on in-home care & related family safety issues to many websites and groups. He is a regular contributor to www.gonannies.com. You can get in touch with him at kmyers.ceo@gmail.com.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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  1. 1. curiouswavefunction 9:08 am 01/17/2013

    It’s interesting that all these famous scientists are either theoretical physicists and mathematicians or physicists who conducted very simple experiments. It would be much harder to find experimental chemists and biologists who started their important work in their teens since experimental skills are much less ingrained than theoretical ones and have to be developed over time.

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  2. 2. M Tucker 5:02 pm 01/17/2013

    “Through their own determination and thirst for knowledge, these teenagers impacted the world far greater than they would realize long after their deaths.”

    I’m pretty sure this is still going on. It has never stopped. Our young prodigies in science and mathematics still impact the world whether we have heard of them or not. Considering how poorly science (including engineering and mathematics) is covered in the press, considering how little attention is paid to any other discoveries and new technologies, other than those having to do with gadgets that have viewing screens or impact social media, I am amazed that I was able to find out any information to refresh my memory.

    The most recent one I could think of is Jack Andraka. Won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair of 2012. Discovered a new method to test for pancreatic cancer at 15 years of age! Pretty f’ing impressive! I believe his older brother Luke won at the science fair in 2011 for coming up with a better way to treat rivers polluted with acid draining from mines. Wow! A family of teenage geniuses!

    With a little work I’m sure a journalist or blogger could come up with some teenage mathematics prodigies who have demonstrated their genius in just the past couple of years. Sure it is fun and educational to remember the past greats in science but determination and the thirst for knowledge are not qualities confined to the past.

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  3. 3. rloldershaw 6:14 pm 01/17/2013

    Even after Einstein became quite well-known and respected among theoretical physicists he was still subjected to a certain amount of discouragement.

    When Einstein told Max Planck about his new ideas for General Relativity, which would generalize Special Relativity, include accelerated reference frames, and offer a new explanation for gravitation, his friend Planck said: “You are almost certainly wrong, and even if you are right, no one will believe you.”

    Fortunately, Einstein did not allow the opinions of others distract him from his path of intuition.

    Robert L. Oldershaw
    http://www3.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw
    Discrete Scale Relativity/Fractal Cosmology

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  4. 4. powertothebrain 8:36 pm 01/17/2013

    curiouswavefunction I think the point is that they were committed to their area and they did a lot. Today of course it would be different because it is more difficult to make a discovery. Now it could seems to your eyes they did a very simple experiment but it is not true, remember you have to contextualize to understand the importance of a discovery.

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  5. 5. M Tucker 12:59 pm 01/18/2013

    Did I miss something? What was the teenage Einstein experimenting with? What devices did he develop? Yes, he excelled in mathematics and physics BUT he did all his work post graduation, his Father died thinking he was a failure, it took many years after publishing his 1905 papers before he was able to get any kind of position at a university.

    It is a fact that most who go on to excel in mathematics or science first show their genius at a young age. Einstein actually was an unimpressive student and no one was predicting greatness for him. Einstein was and exception and exceptional.

    But, if you want people to pay attention to your aticle put in Einstein. If you want to sell magazines put Einstein on the cover. I know I will always take a look even if I don’t always plunk down the money.

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  6. 6. Raghuvanshi1 11:44 pm 01/18/2013

    We must firmly believed that this is a historical fact, it would same product if it came from a completely different perspective of a different inventor. When Einstein invented theory of relativity he openly confessed that if he did not invented the theory of relativity some one definitely invented it because time to invent the law of relativity was fully riped

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  7. 7. Dr. Strangelove 1:25 am 01/21/2013

    Of the 5 scientists mentioned, only Galileo and Pascal made important discoveries as teenagers. The author does not seem to know but the most famous teenage mathematician is Evariste Galois. He died at 20 so his major works were done as a teenager. He invented group theory in 1830 and solved the 5th degree polynomial equation, which eluded the greatest mathematicians for 500 years. BTW group theory is the mathematical basis of modern string theories in physics.

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