“I TOLD you, Daddy, I told you,” Sabrina Pasterski shouted excitedly before her father wrapped her up in an embrace. “Oh my God, it’s so amazing,” she said, then she broke into a short jig.
Sabrina, then aged just 13, had reason to celebrate. It was 2006 and the young Chicago native has just reached a milestone. While other barely teens are playing video games and sleeping in, Sabrina is laying the final touches on a single-engine aircraft she had built from scratch in a workshop in her father’s garage.
“It’s amazing, it just starts spinning. It’s awesome,” she said after the first test of the engine, one that took her 363 days to finish.
The plane was a sign of things to come. Fast-forward nine years and the now-22-year-old is being held up as a the “new Einstein”, a young woman whose brain works in ways few have ever worked and whose future is limitless.
She regularly features in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list and she graduated from one of the world’s most prestigious schools with the highest score possible.
If you haven’t heard of her, you’re not alone. But the world will soon know her name. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate is next in line — behind Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein — to take the mantle as the world’s most talented thinker.
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Ms Pasterski has already graduated from MIT with a perfect grade point average of 5.00. She’s now studying for her doctorate at another school you may have heard of: Harvard. When she graduates, she’ll likely be able to work wherever she pleases.
Jeff Bezos, aerospace developer and founder of Amazon.com, has extended an open invitation for Ms Pasterski to join him whenever she likes. NASA is reportedly also interested in recruiting her.
After building a plane, she could be forgiven for resting on her already impressive achievements. But she said she knows she has to constantly reinvent herself, a lesson she learnt the hard way when she was a high school student.
Asked by a teacher what she’d achieved, she replied: “I’ve built a plane”. The response has become her mantra: “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”
Ms Pasterski has moved on from building planes but said it helped her understand physics in a tangible way. Her next project could help us understand the universe.
At Harvard, she is researching black holes, gravity and space-time, areas of study tackled by Einstein and Hawking before her.
“Years of pushing the bounds of what I could achieve led me to physics,” she said in an interview published this week. She said she liked “spotting elegance within the chaos”.
Her fascination with space started when she was a young girl. She attended the Chicago Public Schools’ Edison Regional Gifted Center and, told reporters at the Chicago Tribune, she decided she wanted to send someone to Mars.
Her website is full of achievements, including a feature in Scientific American where she declared that in 10 years she would be: “On the cover of Scientific American”. That result wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows her.
The plane, which she flew solo above Lake Michigan as a teenager, got her closer to space than she’d ever been. She said these days she hopes to push herself even higher.
“I’m harder on myself than other people probably are on me,” she told the Tribune.
“I definitely feel like I have way more to do. It’s great to get recognition now, but hopefully it builds up to something. I’ll hopefully be right about having some kind of gut feeling that [will become] rather big at some point. Fingers crossed.”
She said “fingers crossed” like she’s depending on luck to intervene. But you don’t need luck when you have good science. Watch this space.
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