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Do you know Terrence Tao? He's a mathematician at UCLA.... A guy with a true genius IQ and was an astounding child math prodigy.

I have never met Terry, but I read his blog and hear stories about him. In a field in which you can't walk across the room without bumping into a prodigy, he definitely stands out. We all hope the best for him.

When it comes to mathematicians, I think it helps to ignore how young they were when they did X or Y amazing feat. Among top-ranked mathematicians, essentially all were prodigies. One of the very few exceptions that I can think of was Solomon Lefschetz. He was a locomotive engineer with an established career in 1906, when a terrible laboratory accident (a transformer explosion) caused the loss of both of his forearms. After a period of depression he switched into math... and neither he nor mathematics were ever the same again. As he said, "It was my lot to plant the harpoon of algebraic topology into the body of the whale of algebraic geometry." He is best known for his fixed-point theorem for compact orientable manifolds.

When I was a young math major in the 1960s, Lefschetz was the grand old man of nonlinear dynamical systems, and I thought he walked on water.

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