1. The youngest ever to pass Britain's bar exam
It's safe to say Gabrielle Turnquest is one serious smartypants. The Florida native graduated from Liberty University in Virginia with a psychology degree at the age of 16. She then went on to study law in the U.K., where this year, at the age of 18, she became the youngest ever to pass Britain's bar exam. (The average age of test-takers is 27 years old.)
But Turnquest isn't stopping there. The motivated teen hopes to qualify as a lawyer back home in America as well as in the Bahamas, the country of her parents, and ultimately become a specialist in fashion law.
2. The pre-teen studying medicine
Sho Yano studies for an anatomy test on Aug. 4, 2003. (AP Photo/Anne Ryan)
In 2003, Sho Yano became the youngest student to study medicine at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. Not even technically a teenager, the 12-year-old had already notched accomplishments above and beyond his mere dozen years. By age three he was playing Chopin on the piano and composing original work by four. By age eight he had scored a 1,500 out of a possible 1,600 points on his SATs, and started college the next year. He went on to graduate summa cum laude from Chicago's Loyola University in just three years before starting medical school.
And just last year, Sho completed his degrees at the ripe old age of 21, becoming the University of Chicago's youngest M.D. ever. "I guess it's a good feeling to be the youngest, but it doesn't feel like something particularly unusual to me," Sho told the Chicago Sun Times. "It's just what I've done."
3. The teen paving the way for safer nuclear energy
Nuclear power could arguably help free the U.S. from its dependence on fossil fuels, but there's once catch: It's environmentally risky, as anyone from Fukushima will tell you.
Enter Taylor Wilson. The 19-year-old has designed a smaller, modular fission reactor that is not only less expensive to run, but also safer to operate. Wilson's design is reportedly 15 percent more efficient than today's reactors, and would require refueling every 30 years instead of the current rate of every 18 months.
Wilson says his design would do no less than combat climate change, bring affordable power to the developing world, and power rockets to explore space. You know, no big deal. And if you're wondering what kind of cred this wunderkind has, Wilson was able to achieve nuclear fusion at the age of 14 — the youngest person ever to do so. "This could be the source of energy that provides carbon-free electricity," he has said.
4. America's youngest lawyer
Stephen Baccus graduates from the University of Miami on May 14, 1999. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Stephen Baccus wanted to be a lawyer so badly that he petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to waive a state law that says only contracts signed by those 18 years or older are valid. In 1986, Baccus, who graduated from college at age 14 with a degree in computer science, passed the Florida state bar on his 17th birthday. "I could have waited until I am 18, but I didn't want to," he told the Miami News at the time.
With the court ruling in his favor, Baccus became the youngest lawyer in modern American history and went on to start his own firm. After seven years building his law career, Baccus changed gears. Eager for the humbling challenges of science, the one-time child genius earned a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Miami. "If money was my primary motivating factor I might have different career plans, but it's not," he told the Associated Press in 1999 after graduation. "I'm interested in doing something interesting to me."
5. The youngest to win the MacArthur "genius grant"
You can't apply for the MacArthur fellowship. You can't even be nominated for it. The five-year, no-strings-attached grant is gifted one day out of thin air. The so-called "genius grant" is typically awarded to between 20 and 40 Americans of any age, working in any field, who show "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits." And in 1984, David Stuart got the phone call that would make him the youngest fellow in the foundation's history. "I was dumbfounded," Stuart told the Harvard Crimson at the time. "The call came out of the blue."
The 18-year-old expert in Mayan archaeology had been studying ancient scripts since he was three years old. At the age of 14, Stuart published his first paper, "Some Thoughts on Certain Occurrences of the T565 Glyph Element at Palenque." He went on to publish two more papers before graduating high school and being accepted as a junior fellow in pre-Columbian studies at the Washington, D.C., research branch of Harvard University. Previously, the youngest MacArthur winner was a 22-year-old physicist.
6. The teen prodigy battling pancreatic cancer
Jack Andraka speaks after receiving Smithsonian Magazine's first annual American Ingenuity Award for young achievement on Nov. 28, 2012. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images for Smithsonian Magazine)
One of the many unfortunate characteristics of pancreatic cancer is that it is usually caught too late to save the patient. After a family friend died of the disease, Jack Andraka decided to devote himself to making a better early-detection test. The solution came to him during his freshman biology class and the teen set to work. He read free online journals and anything that came up in Google searches to develop a plan and a budget. He sent proposals to about 200 laboratories requesting to use their facilities. He received only one acceptance letter from Dr. Anirban Maitra at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Andraka worked at the lab after school, on weekends, and over holidays to develop his test, which he submitted to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair ("the Olympics of science fairs," he said). The 15-year-old's final product proved to be 28 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive, and 100 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests. Andraka earned the fair's highest prize, including the $100,000 pot.