Harvard University believes the world’s next Einstein is among us — and she’s a millennial.
At age 23, Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski is already one of the most well-known and accomplished physicists in the U.S.
The Cuban-American Chicago native graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in just three years with a 5.0-grade point average, the highest possible, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard with full academic freedom — meaning she can pursue her own study on her own terms without staff interference.
Pasterski first attracted the attention of the scientific and academic community after single-handedly building her own single-engine airplane in 2008, at age 14, and documenting the process on YouTube.
MIT professors Allen Haggerty and Earll Murman saw the video and were astonished. “Our mouths were hanging open after we looked at it,” Haggerty recalls. “Her potential is off the charts.”
At age 16, she piloted the aircraft herself over Lake Michigan, becoming the youngest person ever to fly their own plane.
“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT. “Not only because she was so young, but a girl.”
Pasterski had first flown a plane at age 9, an experience she casually relayed to a teacher at her public high school, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora. The teacher replied: “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”
“That’s become my mantra ever since,” Pasterski toldthe Chicago Tribune in a 2016 interview. “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”
Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who studied forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, she writes on a wide range of topics for local and national publications.