REPLAY: Paul Wells in conversation with Jacob Barnett and mother, Kristine

The 15-year-old physics phenom and his mother take your questions


Photograph by Jessica Darmanin

By May of this year, Jacob Barnett had wrung everything he could get out of the university he had been attending for four years in his home state of Indiana. He had taken every undergraduate course on mathematics and physics, and a bunch of graduate-level courses, too. None of it had even slowed Jacob down. The only question now was where he would go to study next.

Those are the opening lines of Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells’ profile of a 15-year-old autistic boy who’s now one of the world’s most promising physicists. He eventually landed at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he talks shop with others of his kind; namely, brilliant minds who challenge conventional notions of how the world works. Barnett’s mother, Kristine, chronicled her son’s incredible life in a recently published book, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. Kristine broke a bunch of rules: she didn’t listen to therapists, took her son out of special education, and let him think about the world around him.

On Sept. 10, Wells chatted with both Barnetts. He also talked more about some other Perimeter personalities, debates in modern physics, and the future of Kitchener-Waterloo.


REPLAY: Paul Wells in conversation with Jacob Barnett and mother, Kristine

  1. Hello! I’d like to ask Jake a question about consciousness. As he works deeply within quantum physics, what has he learned about consciousness? What is consciousness? What does physics tell us about consciousness?

  2. (to Kristine) Hi, I’m from Portugal, mother of 4 yo twins (non-verbal), I’m wonder what kind of advice you have for me to find their spark?! One loves cars, other loves computers (youtube babytv and so).
    Huge hug to Jake, you’re awesome! <3

  3. Hello, do you think there is less of a stigma to autism now people like you and carly Fleischmann and others are more active on internet and people can find other ways to get informed?

  4. Hello Jacob! You are my idol. I’m studying economics atm but I have always been interested in physics and space! When did you first realize that you want to study theoretical physics?

  5. Jacob, hello, what do you think of this?

    Another question, what’s your favourite song and why?

    Take care and all the best,

  6. After You get your PhD in Physics and mathematics, would you consider doing a PhD in molecular genetics or a related field like organic chemistry? Or does the life Sciences not interest you as much as the Physical Sciences?

  7. Hey Jacob, I’d like to know about how you divide your time, of you study seven hours per day, for example….and the other question is what do You think is better: math or physics? Thanks

  8. Hi Jacob!!!
    I would first like to say that your are amazing, and I believe I will be following your career for the rest of my life, as you give hope to many of us that there really are some people out there who understand more of math, space, and time then we ever will. It is my passion, but clearly I have not applied myself as much as you have. I was afraid there would be no one from my era that would reach their maximum potential, but I think you are on the right track and I am excited to follow you.

    For starters:
    Have you seen star trek filmed in 2009? Directed by J.J. Abrams? Well there is a scene in there where Spock is on his home planet, in a learning center. He is in a half dome shape container, and he is answering math, physics, and space related questions. I believe that this method of learning would be optimal for young children, or people like me who need help learning, and I believe sitting in an area and learning, with well-timed breaks, would create the perfect learning environment for those of us who cannot memorize as quickly as you :)

    But now for my question.

    Santiago Gonzalez is a child programming prodigy. He can turn things into code and program better than adults, and he is your similar age. I believe that if you two teamed up, he would be able to accurately relay the technical math information that you know, and if done correctly, could lead to a program that helps many many people begin to understand the mathematics that you do. I would love to see that happen. You could be the teacher and Santiago could be the translator that allows everyone(with much practice) to learn your language!!!

    Would it interest you to work with another child prodigy, to create a math program that could change the world as we know it??? And I believe you could!!!

    P.S. I have had this idea ever since I had seen the star trek movie, but until now I had not found my instructors, but I think now I have! :)

    Just a question, hope to maybe hear your thoughts!!!
    Thank you for your time, Jacob