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The Singular Mind of Terry Tao

Fame came early for Tao, who was born in South Australia. An old headline in his hometown paper, The Advertiser, reads: ‘‘TINY TERENCE, 7, IS HIGH-SCHOOL WHIZ.’’ The clipping includes a photo of a diminutive Tao in 11th-grade math class, wearing a V-neck sweater over a white turtleneck, kneeling on his chair so he can reach a desk he is sharing with a girl more than twice his age. His teacher told the reporter that he hardly taught Tao anything, because Tao was always working two lessons ahead of the others. (Tao taught himself to read at age 2.) Advertisement Continue reading the main story A few months later, halfway through the school year, Tao was moved up to 12th-grade math. Three years later, at age 10, Tao became the youngest person in history to win a medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad. He has since won many other prizes, including a MacArthur ‘‘genius’’ grant and the Fields Medal, considered the Nobel Prize for mathematicians. Today, many regard Tao as the finest mathematician of his generation.