Who is the worst mathematician ever

15-year-old math genius begins master's degree - as the youngest contender of all time

15-year-old math genius begins master's degree - as the youngest contender of all time

He is the most famous gifted person in Switzerland - and continues to break new ground. Maximilian Janisch (15) started his master’s degree after just one year at the University of Zurich. So far, nobody has been younger than him.

The penultimate exam of the semester was only a few hours ago. 14 pages, 90 minutes time, database systems. “That wasn't too difficult,” says Maximilian Janisch and smiles. He'll probably get a 6 again, as he always does since he started studying. The teenager from Meierskappel (LU) is only 15 years old.

Maximilian is the youngest student in Switzerland. He has been studying mathematics at the University of Zurich for two semesters - and has already passed a dozen exams. He has almost the 180 points required for the bachelor's degree. He is only six points missing, but nobody doubts that he will get them soon. Maximilian is one of the best in all exams. His worst grade last year: a 5.5.

The 15-year-old remains the most famous gifted man in the country. With an IQ of 149+, he breaks the usual scale. He became known in the summer of 2013 when he passed the mathematics Matura with top marks. He was just nine years old then. An achievement that there is no comparable in this country.

Newspapers, radio and TV stations vied for him. Not just in Switzerland. German broadcasters reported on the boy from Lucerne, the British BBC and a Japanese magazine also wrote articles: Maximilian, the “genius”, the “child prodigy”, the “Mozart of mathematics”.

That was grossly exaggerated at the time, says Maximilian. But he is still recognized and spoken to. "Aren't you the math genius from the media?" He is occasionally asked by students and university staff on campus. "People are just interested," he says, "that doesn't bother me." Nevertheless, it has become a little quieter around him. Maximilian, meanwhile 1.84 meters tall, is only noticeable on campus if you take a closer look.

That was very different when he was at high school. As a 9-year-old among teenagers, he stuck out like Einstein's tongue in the famous photo from 1951. Maximilian's talent for mathematics took care of the rest. He gave tutoring to classmates. "I would like to suggest to you that the Matura will not be difficult," he told the other high school students. "Anyone can do that." He, the little one, had to explain the world of mathematics to the grown-ups.

With his talent, Maximilian also reached many limits. The Swiss education system is not prepared for someone like him. After graduating from high school in mathematics, he actually wanted to go to ETH Zurich. But no 9-year-old is allowed to study in this country. First he had to get the Matura in all subjects, it was said. Maximilian's father, a retired math professor, is annoyed by the lack of support. Instead of encouraging his son, he would be slowed down. Switzerland is doing too little for its academic talents, he complained.

American top universities registered. Harvard fought for the math genius, but moving was out of the question for the family. Maximilian should not be torn from his environment.

It was Michael Hengartner, Rector of the University of Zurich, who turned to the family with a solution in 2013. He offered Maximilian a special program and provided him with a mentor, Professor Camillo De Lellis, who was once a gifted child himself. This promoted Maximilian in private lessons at the university until he was able to officially enroll at the university last summer.

De Lellis, who has meanwhile been appointed to the elite American university Princeton, says of the boy: "I have never seen such talent as his."

He will soon be doing a PhD

After a year of studies, Maximilian draws a positive conclusion. He is making good progress and he also gets along well with his fellow students. He doesn't go to student parties yet, but he is now a member of the Swiss Study Foundation, which promotes high-performing academics.

Here Maximilian meets other talented students with whom he sometimes exchanges ideas. In a few months, Maximilian will be breaking new ground again. He can start his master’s degree in autumn. So far nobody has been younger.

He expects 3 semesters to also master this degree. Four are common. Isn't that too tight? "So please," replies Maximilian and smiles. "This way, I still have plenty of time to write my master's thesis."

Maximilian already knows what comes next. He wants to do a doctorate with his mentor Camillo De Lellis in the USA. Because he will then only be 17 years old, he should stay with the University of Zurich at least until he comes of age - as the youngest doctoral student in Switzerland.

High school graduates attend the university

(yno)The University of Zurich wants to better support talented young people. That is why the university has been offering Zurich high school students the opportunity to attend courses while they are still in high school for a year. You are allowed to sit in lectures, collect Bachelor points and write papers. "The experience with Maximilian made us do more for gifted middle school students," says Michael Hengartner, Rector of the University of Zurich. 37 talents have registered for the pilot project. Lectures from the MINT area (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology), the philosophy faculty and law are popular. The young people between 17 and 19 are in the last two years of their high school education. They were chosen by their teachers. The fact that there are fewer than the expected 60 young people is due to the fact that not all grammar schools have accepted the offer from the University of Zurich. In the autumn, the university will decide in consultation with the secondary schools how to proceed with the pilot project. Young people from neighboring cantons, such as Aargau, St. Gallen or Schwyz, could possibly also follow from 2020.