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Written by Dan McFeely


When Jacob Barnett first learned about the Schrödinger equation for quantum mechanics, he could hardly contain himself.


For three straight days, his little brain buzzed with mathematical functions.


From within his 12-year-old, mildly autistic mind, there gradually flowed long strings of pluses, minuses, funky letters and upside-down triangles — a tapestry of complicated symbols that few can understand.


He grabbed his pencil and filled every sheet of paper before grabbing a marker and filling up a dry erase board that hangs in his bedroom. With a single-minded obsession, he kept on, eventually marking up every window in the home.


Strange, say some.


Genius, say others.


But entirely normal for Jacob, a child prodigy who used to crunch his cereal while calculating the volume of the cereal box in his head.


“Whenever I try talking about math with anyone in my family,” he said, “they just stare blankly.”


So do many of his older classmates at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who marvel at seeing this scrawny little kid in the front row of the calculus-based physics class he has been taking this semester.


“When I first walked in and saw him, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to school with Doogie Howser,’ ” said Wanda Anderson, a biochemistry major, referring to a television show that featured a 16-year-old boy-genius physician.


Elementary school couldn’t keep Jacob interested. And courses at IUPUI have only served to awaken a sleeping giant.


Just a few weeks shy of his 13th birthday, Jake, as he’s often called, is starting to move beyond the level of what his professors can teach.


In fact, his work is so strong and his ideas so original that he’s being courted by a top-notch East Coast research center. IUPUI is interested in him moving from the classroom into a funded researcher’s position.


“We have told him that after this semester . . . enough of the book work. You are here to do some science,” said IUPUI physics Professor John Ross, who vows to help find some grant funding to support Jake and his work.


“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.”


“My fear was that he would never be in our world”


Teenage college student?


Developer of his own original theory on quantum physics?


Paid researcher at 13?


This is not what Jake’s parents expected from a child whose first few years were spent in silence.


“Oh my gosh, when he was 2, my fear was that he would never be in our world at all,” said Kristine Barnett, 36, Jake’s mother.


“He would not talk to anyone. He would not even look at us.”


Child psychologists assessed Jake at the time and diagnosed behavioral characteristics of a borderline autistic child. He was impaired, they said, and had a lack of “spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment,” difficulty showing emotion and interacting with others.


Diagnosis: mildly autistic.


Read in Full:

http://www.indystar.com/article/20110320/LOCAL01/103200369/1001/LOCAL/Genius-work-12-year-old-studying-IUPUI?odyssey=nav|head



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