Child prodigies are a delicate bunch, as evidenced by this girl, and a nine-year-old Houston boy is in that group.
He's Adam Atanas and he recently finished a semester of physics classes at Texas A&M.
"It's very easy to see them as little circus monkeys and they're not," says Dr. David Toback, who served as Atanas's professor and mentor this semester. "This is a kid that really finds the science of the stars and universe exciting and he's following his bliss. His mom does a wonderful job of letting him follow that and not getting in his way, and she's not trying to turn him into anything."
Toback first met Atanas at one of A&M's Saturday Morning Physics sessions, which are open to the public. When Toback asked how many people in the audience understood Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, Atanas was the only person to raise his hand.
"I said, 'Okay you're a liar,' but I was wrong," Toback says, adding that later in the lecture, "I was showing the deuterium process...and [Atanas] said, 'That's not really right, is it? That's not really the dominant process in stellar evolution.' I just thought, 'Good Lord.'"
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After the lecture, Toback hunted down Atanas and his mother, and after talking with them he invited Atanas to attend one of his physics classes, and the boy did one or two times each week.
"Frankly he was asking much better and much harder questions than most students in the class. If anything, I kind of need to quiet him down a little because he was intimidating the other students," Toback says.
Now that the semester is over, Toback has sent Atanas to a professor in the physics department at Rice University. Atanas's mother is working to get him a grad student as a tutor, because "the class was fun, but he has questions and he wants to go off and answer them," according to Toback.
"I think his primary job is to enjoy his childhood and grow up and keep having fun, but he has a special gift," Toback says. "He loves what he's doing, and he's not being pushed, so it wouldn't surprise me if he could stay doing this."