Terence “Terry” Chi-Shen Tao is an Australian-American mathematician working in harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, additive combinatorics, ergodic Ramsey theory, random matrix theory and analytic number theory. He currently holds the James and Carol Collins chair in mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, where at the age of 24 he became the youngest person ever promoted to full professor. He is a co-recipient of the 2006 Fields Medal and received a MacArthur “Genius Award” the same year. In 2014 he won the inaugural $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.
But that’s not what’s important.
What’s important is that his parents, who emigrated from Hong Kong to Australia, recognized his gifts early on. How could they not? When he was 2 years old he was teaching the other kids how to count with blocks. But Australia had no major gifted education programs at that time, and so his parents worked hard to find the resources they felt he needed. As a result, he started taking high school classes at age 8 and attending university-level mathematics courses at age 9. His parents brought him to the United States, where they consulted some of the most influential researchers in the field of gifted education, among them Julian Stanley, founder of the Johns Hopkins Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth program.
Terry became one of only two children in the history of that program to achieve a score of 700 or greater on the SAT math section while just 8 years old (he scored a 760). At 10, 11 and 12, he was the youngest participant in the International Mathematical Olympiad, winning a bronze, silver and gold medal, respectively, in those years. He remains the youngest winner of each of the three medals in the Olympiad’s history. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at age 16 from Flinders University in Australia and his Ph.D. from Princeton at 21.
Miraca Gross is Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education at New South Wales University in Australia and director of the Gifted Education, Research, Resource and Information Centre there. Recognized worldwide as an authority on the academic, social and emotional needs of gifted children, she is the author of Exceptionally Gifted Children, a landmark among educators, which presents 15 subjects selected from a longitudinal study of 40 Australian children with IQs over 160 — including Terence Tao. Earlier in her career Professor Gross did a major study of Terry, who was then still a young student.
She won two Mensa Foundation Awards for Excellence in Research for her work, and her paper on Terry was published in the Mensa Research Journal. (Another one of her papers is in the Winter 2016 issue of the MRJ.) More recently, she became the first non-American scholar to receive the Mensa Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (Who was the first person to receive that award? Julian Stanley.)
What’s important? The Foundation’s Awards for Excellence in Research and the Lifetime Achievement Awards provide recognition for researchers like Professor Gross and Professor Stanley, recognition that helps generations of scholars bring new insights to the field of human intelligence, and the Mensa Research Journal helps spread the word about their work.
And today, Terry’s parents would not have to travel halfway around the world to nurture their child’s precocity. Today they could just go online and find almost everything they need a few clicks away on the Foundation website.
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