The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Child prodigies and Nobel Prizes

Do child prodigies grow up to be Nobel Prize Winners? I ask this because it is clear that some people believe that child prodigies don't or won't do any such thing. (I can tell from the content of the searches with which they arrive on my site.) There is a general lack of awareness of what child prodigies have actually gone on to do, as adults. Perhaps this is because there is often more attention focussed on their childhoods than on their later adult achievements - or if they achieve big things, there is a tendency to focus on their adult achievements and forget their childhoods. Either way, there is a kind of reporting bias that obscures the truth of the lives child prodigies. Many of them go on to do interesting things.

One example is Lev Landau. Now, if you are of a certain age, you would recognize his name. He was a Physicist, born on January 22nd, 1908 into a Jewish family based in Baku, Azerbajian. He had a most curious childhood and was very early recognized as a child prodigy in mathematics - indeed, so early did he develop this gift that, he was later to say of his childhood: "I can't remember a time when I wasn't familiar with calculus."

This promising beginning bore fruit and he graduated from the Gymnasium at 13, but was not allowed to go immediately to University so he entered Baku Economical Technical School at 13. A year later, at 14, he matriculated at Baku University, in 1922, studying in two departments simultaneously - the Physico-Mathematical and the Chemistry departments. In 1924 he moved to the Leningrad University, graduating in 1927, and then to the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute, from which he received his doctorate at the age of 21.

In his early career, he managed to study for a time at the Niels' Bohr Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen - a time which was seminal for him. On his return to the Soviet Union, he began to publish a stream of papers in Theoretical Physics. His greatest contribution was the Theory of Superfluidity in which he explained the properties of liquid helium, but he also wrote many papers across the fields of Physics: discovering the density matrix method in quantum mechanics, the Ginzburg-Landau Theory of Superconductivity, the quantum theory of diamagnetism, the theory of second-order phase transitions, Landau damping in Plasma Physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, and the two-component theory of neutrinos.

In 1962, for his work on Superfluidity, Lev Landau received the Nobel Prize in Physics. This was also the year he was involved in a head-on collision with a truck, on January 7. He spent three months in a coma and was never to recover his creative abilities. He died on April 1st, 1968, as a consequence of the injuries he sustained.

Lev Landau is one of many child prodigies in history who grew up to be as distinguished as an adult as he had been as a child. He received many prizes in his lifetime for his diverse work - including the Max Planck Medal, the Fritz London Prize, the U.S.S.R State Prize (which he was awarded several times) and the Lenin Science Prize. It is, however, the most famous prize of all, the Nobel Prize, that we tend to remember.

He was a foreign member of both the Royal Society, London and a Foreign Associate of the American Academy of Sciences of the USA among many other international societies.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:22 AM 


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