1. Michael Faraday
Famously known as the guy who discovered electromagnetism, he was recorded as carrying out his first electromagnetic experiment with a pile of coins (student loan came in early I guess), making a voltaic pile, which was essentially a battery, in 1812, when he was just 20 years old. He wasn’t the first to discover the battery, but it was from this that he built up a unique knowledge base on what we know as electrochemistry. Well done Faraday!
By this time he’d also completed a 7 year apprenticeship with a bookbinder and bookseller, George Riebau, and had used his time to read the equivalent of those textbooks you check out from the Bill Bryson but never actually read.
After this (yes, there’s more), he attended lectures by Sir Humphry Davy, a big man in the Chemistry world. Faraday was obviously more vigilant than today’s average student as he then proceeded to mail Davy a 300 page book containing notes he’d made in the lectures. Something tells me he’d be that guy at the front with his hand up, even if the lecturer hadn’t asked the class a question.
At least he got a good job out of it, and at the age of 21 was named Assistant Chemist at The Royal Institution of Great Britain. I’m still waiting on TargetJobs to get back to me.
2. Nikola Tesla
To start with, Tesla had an eidetic memory, and so was the 1800’s version of that person on your course who skips most of the lectures, half-does the labs and is up the night before the deadline only 500 words into their 2000 word assignment, but still gets a first at the end of the year because they remember, in detail, everything they engage with.
Despite contracting Cholera, which was arguably worse than Fresher’s Flu, and being bed-bound for 9 months, he managed to start his studies on a scholarship at The Austrian Polytechnic Institute in Graz. So Tesla, reportedly, never missed a lecture, he passed nearly two times the number of necessary exams, and all at the highest possible grades.
He claimed to work from 3am until 11pm.
Tesla – 4, Me – 0.
All that being said, he did develop a severe gambling addiction, play away all of his tuition money, insult a professor at the University, lose his Military Frontier scholarship and fail to take his final exams. Casino Night’s in College haven’t got that out of hand yet, but there’s still time.
3. Alexander Graham Bell
This guy is the reason reams of people camp outside of Apple stores waiting days for the new iPhone, as if its snazzy, pastel-coloured case distinguishes it from the last model. I kid, but as inventor of the telephone, a great contributor to aeronautical science, and the guy who made the metal detector (cool right?), he’s a pretty big fish.
At the age of 12 (seriously?) he designed a dehusking machine, comprising of some rotating paddles and nail brushes, which was used for a number of years in a wheat mill. As someone who struggles to use basic cosmetic appliances for their intended purpose, I’m more than a little impressed with his innovation on that one.
He also learned the piano, then a form of sign language so as to communicate with his mother who became progressively deafer throughout his childhood.
He never finished school but was so well educated by his grandfather upon moving to London that at 16, he was given a job as a teacher of elocution and music in Weston House Academy in Scotland. It was also shortly after this age that he was inspired to construct a speaking automaton. I bet your Design Project is looking a little shabby now.
From the age of 17 (at which point I was recoiling from my UCAS personal application), he attended the University of Edinburgh, and at 21, was also given an offer to study at the University of London.
4. Rosalind Franklin
This will sound sort of like one of those parent-teacher evenings you sometime got forced to go along to in secondary school.
‘She has an incredibly inquisitive mind and excels in almost every subject. Her mental arithmetic is outstanding, her French is first class and she represents the school in two sports, both of which she is brilliant at! Her German and Latin are going really well, and she has a real talent for Science. The only concern is her musical ability – if she tried harder I’m sure she’d do a lot better!’
Okay – so maybe not exactly like those meetings. That was Rosalind Franklin’s report card, omitting a few annual school awards. After all that she got a scholarship to go to Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, where she studied Chemistry (you go, Rosalind Franklin!). At the end of her course, she was given an esteemed position for a Research Fellowship under the reputable Ronald Norrish – that being said, he drank heavily and had a short temper. She quit, but of course, promptly acquired the admirable position of Assistant Research Officer at The British Coal Utilisation Research Association at 22 years of age.
5. Marie Stopes
Although now associated with some contentious topics, Stopes’ academic background is more than impressive. She attended the University College London on a scholarship, studying geology and botany. The really remarkable bit comes in when she graduates in 1902, only two years after starting her course, with a first class degree. If only, right?
Stopes then went on to achieve a Doctor of Science degree, officially becoming the youngest person to ever do so. Unnecessary if you ask me, but whatever. By 24 she had completed her Ph.D. in Paleobotany, by which time she was also lecturing at UCL and the University of Manchester.
6. Ada Lovelace
Although she had a fairly messy family life, rife with the scandal of parental separation and the breaking of tradition by living under maternal custody throughout her childhood (as it was typical for any children to remain with the father), Lovelace showed great talent from a young age.
At age 12 she decided she would like to create the means to fly, and researched extensively into wing size, material, the anatomy of birds, relevant technology like compasses, and finally, the possibility of using steam to fuel her invention. This design was completed by age 13, although no real efforts to construct the thing took place. Personally, I am reminded of my loose-ended EPQ from my Sixth form years – but then I was 17, and I only read half of the references.
Throughout her adolescence she showed great mathematical talent. A little slow off the bat, at 27 she wrote notes that are now considered to be the makings of the first computer program. This was between 1842 and 1843…Maybe we could forgive her for being a little Ustinov by the time she made it big?
7. Charles Darwin
First up, at 16 he acted as an apprentice doctor to his father. I don’t know about you, but if a 16 year old started trying to give me medical treatment, I’d have more than a few questions about who signed off on that paperwork. Anyway, this secured him a place at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He didn’t much take to his course and neglected his lectures and practicals…*cough*. Besides that he got increasingly into natural history, and found himself in social circles who contradicted traditional, religious views of the history of man and nature.
In his time at the University, he also learned Taxidermy. Missed that stall at the Fresher’s Fair? Check out the DSU society’s list page and you’ll find it under ‘Recreational’.
Shortly after, Darwin got shipped off to Christ’s College, Cambridge, because Edinburgh just wasn’t cutting it. He was forced to study to become a Parson, and after much reluctance and procrastination (shooting and riding, as opposed to Lloyds-ing and Loft-ing) Darwin finally pulled it all together and came 10th out of a class of 178 at the age of 22.
In the same year, Darwin was offered the internship of a lifetime on the HMS Beagle as a ‘Gentleman Naturalist’. Imagine penning that on your C.V.!
Anyway, this position was held for 5 years, in which time he made copious observations of the natural world, spanning from the tropical rainforests of Brazil and the volcanic rises in Cape Verde, to the Galapagos, to Cape Town. Better than the average interrail, Darwin was so successful in documenting his experience that the guy who’d been employed as the official naturalist, Robert McCormick, left the voyage when they arrived in Brazil, as Darwin had surpassed him and taken his job. Poor git.
By 27 Darwin was a celebrity in scientific circles, and his natural observations and specimens were eagerly talked about. In 1837, Darwin had sought the help of experts and had started writing notes describing the transition of one species into another. A ground-breaking theory that has influenced our own species in ways seen both in science and the humanities, all produced by 28.
I can but dream.