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8 yr old who wants be an astrophysicist

  1. Jul 14, 2013 #1
    Hi all! My son who is 8 wants to be an astrophysicist. He has already chosen his college lol, MIT. He loves all things space, owns his own orion telescope, and watches and reads anything he can about space. He received a perfect score on his IOWA testing related to science. He knows more about space and science than most of the 8th graders that his uncle teaches. He gets bored though with other subjects except science and math. He has adhd and walks the line to be considered as having autistic traits. He is very friendly and outgoing so thats not an issue. He just doesnt get other kids very well. He enjoys talking to adults even though most of us have no clue what he is talking about when it comes to science. I am an RN so my field is science based, but in no way the same as what he wants to learn about. Sorry to go on so long. I am just at a loss what to do for him. He has been using MIT's opencourseware to learn as much as he can. However, somethings are even too complicated for him. Is there anywhere I can take him or go online where someone can learn more complicated information. He can watch a video about space and after one time he retains all the information from the show. So he is a very visual learner. Any words of encouragement or thoughts on how to help him would be appreciated. I do not push him on learning these things either, he actually loves to learn. Thanks
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  3. Jul 14, 2013 #2
    How much math does he know? Before studying astrophysics (seriously), you will probably want to know some basic classical physics (mechanics, electromagnetism, relativity), and before studying that, you will probably want to know elementary algebra, trigonometry and maybe some calculus.

    Also, your son's motivation and enthusiasm at such an age is very commendable!
  4. Jul 14, 2013 #3
    I agree with Poley; mathematics is the place to start. Otherwise he might just be memorizing facts without actually understanding the science.

    I have attached a link to a mathematics book that I often recommend to motivated high school students. Your son is much younger, but if he is already looking at MIT courses online perhaps he is at this level.


    I might also suggest that you encourage him to learn about other parts of physics, chemistry, the history of astronomy, etc. If he can start to see connections between broad areas of human intellectual progress his appreciation of a specific field like modern astrophysics will hopefully increase.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Jul 14, 2013 #4
    He already knows elementary algebra and wants to learn more math everyday. He didnt do so well on verbal related to comprehension on the IOWA. He has been in speech for 6 years so the teachers said that was normal. He seems to comprehend more complicated ideas but tested lower because he rushes through. He knows the history of astronomy and can tell you almost everything about it. When he was getting ready to head into second grade he used to sneak my science books early in the morning and study chemistry. One day he came up to me when I was going over elements and trying to figure out the lewis structure for H2O. Thanks for the link we actually have the book.! He has being studying on Tuesdays focusing just on relativity, he loves Einstein and learning about time-space (he calls it special relativity)?? I just didn't know if he should go to regular school or what. As far as motivation lol, he downloaded the MIT undergrad application and put it on his wall so he can feel motivated when he wakes up. Sometimes I just feel lost when it comes to helping him.
  6. Jul 14, 2013 #5


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    There is no "ideal" path at this stage so don't stress too much thinking that you aren't doing the right things. Continue to do what you can to encourage his interests. Things that might help would be getting him involved in competitive science fairs, science clubs, or science camps. If there aren't any in your area, help him come up with some kind of a unique project on his own.

    Be careful about "gifted" programs for kids at that age. Sometimes they are just cash grabs.
  7. Jul 15, 2013 #6
    Make sure he does not get too set on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He should know about MIT's eternal rival the California Institute of Technology, aka Caltech. He probably knows by now that bigger telescopes are better than smaller telescopes, and Caltech is going to operate a thirty meter telescope in Hawaii!
  8. Jul 15, 2013 #7
    I would say your son is on the right path. Learning algebra, geometry and then calculus should be the main steps.

    I think, if it is possible, that International Baccelaureate would be an option for him in a few years.
  9. Jul 15, 2013 #8


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    Perhaps the most valuable thing for such a budding young scientist is to learn humility in the face of the mystery and wonder of the universe.
  10. Jul 15, 2013 #9
    Since he's so ahead of the game for his age, he might want to look into national or international science and math competition for students. There are the physics and math olympiads for high schoolers, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was something similar out there for middle schoolers.

    Studying online course materials is fine and impressive and all, but it's better and more useful if he gets something done "on paper" like participating in olympiads, something that actually tests his strengths and teaches him the discipline to study at a competitive level (since this is what he'll be doing all through college, up to taking GRE's and qualifying exams). As long as he has fun with what he's doing and he doesn't approach it in an unhealthy manner, I could see this being fairly positive.

    Also, fixing his problem with verbal skills would probably merit as much attention if not more.
  11. Jul 15, 2013 #10


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    Keep in mind that like many 8-year-olds, he may change his mind about what he wants to do by the time he reaches high school. Bear with me for a story...

    When I was a kid, my parents bought for me, or I borrowed from the library, this book:


    which I enjoyed a lot because Gamow was both a good physicist and a good popular-level writer. He dedicated it "to my son Igor, who wants to be a cowboy."

    Several years later he wrote another book which I bought and read while I was in high school or college:


    about the early days of quantum mechanics. In the preface he commented that many people had asked him if Igor had actually become a cowboy. It turned out he had decided to become a physicist instead, and was then in college or grad school, I've forgotten which. He went on to become a physics professor at the University of Colorado, I think, following in his father's footsteps.

    Those two books are pretty old by now, but they're cheap and probably still a good read, so you might consider them for your son anyway. :smile:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Jul 15, 2013 #11


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    Well, that's about where I was when I was about 9 in 5th grade. I became interested in nuclear physics and astronomy/astrophysics - and that was in the dark ages before hand held calculators and 14 years before the first production PC - and way before the Internet.

    PhysicsForums is a great resource.

    I would recommend some resource like Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia.

    Otherwise, plan to spend time at the library - preferably a university library with a good technical section.

    Also, as one's son reaches junior high school, look for summer programs for gifted students at local universities. My summers during 7th-11th grade were spent in such university programs (studying math and science, and humanities/languages), while the summer between 11th and 12th grade was spent at an NSF-sponsored program at Colorado School of Mines studying nuclear and electrical engineering - with an introduction to Calculus.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Jul 16, 2013 #12
    Another important thing would be sending him to a good high school with an emphasis on rigour and understanding of science or straight to university if he has the ability.
    High school environment in general, students, teachers and curriculum can destroy one's interest in learning.
  14. Jul 16, 2013 #13
    Let him watch The Mechanical Universe, I could barely do algebra when I first watched it (& forget about trigonometry) but if he's passionate this will [STRIKE]force him to quit his job & study physics[/STRIKE] motivate his passion for learning the math & physics involved in astrophysics.
  15. Jul 17, 2013 #14
    Thank you all for your comments. We live in a small area so good schools are limited. I am just going to continue to be supportive of his endeavors. Though I have to say I'm sure glad he's the oldest of my three because the younger two are really smart too. Guess they pay attention to him because they can answer space questions too and they are only 4 and 5! Glad I have a great role model for the younger two! Again thank you all!
  16. Jul 18, 2013 #15
    I know my advice might be non-academic in nature, but you can also give him classic Sci-Fi literature such as books by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, or simply good movies of the same nature i.e Star Trek, Space Odyssey and so on. Something fun yet interesting.
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