From Steve Jobs To Oliver Sacks : 12 Scientists And Techies Who Tinkered As Kids

Hilary Brueck - - Forbes - Future Technology News & Information -

The news last week that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at school for bringing in his homemade clock sparked international outcry. It prompted calls for more kids like Mohamed to keep exploring from the likes of President Obama to Mark Zuckerberg .This isn't the first time that young, curious science enthusiasts have been “caught” exploring the world around them. Thankfully, many have continued on to produce some pretty impressive results: pioneering exploration of human consciousness, inventing computer programming language that's still in use today and becoming “the greatest fossil hunter ever known.”Here's a look back through history at what Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Jobs and ten others were up to when they were young: Grace Hopper Took Apart Alarm Clocks [caption id="attachment_2d3107083ae5da11af9f0014c2589dfb" align="" width="640"] Dr. Grace Hopper, originator of Electronic computer automatic programming for the Remington Rand Division of Sperry Rand Corporation. (Photo: AP)[/caption]Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper started her engineering career at age 7, when she took apart all the alarm clocks in her house , trying to figure out how they worked. The first “ Computer Science Man of the Year ” in 1969, she's widely acclaimed for her contributions to computer programming languages, including COBOL, a computer language still used in business and finance today. As legend has it, after a moth flew into an early-model computer she was working on in 1947, she coined the term “ de-bug .” Thomas Edison's Chemical Express [caption id="attachment_624" align="" width="762"] Thomas Edison (Photo: AP)[/caption]Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he worked the rails . At age 12 he took a job selling candies and newspapers on a train and he soon built up a small chemistry lab in one of the baggage cars. But his train car experiments were cut short when some phosphorus caught fire and he was kicked off at the next stop. Oliver Sacks' Laundry Labatory [caption id="attachment_88194654" align="" width="640"] Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks speaks at Columbia University June 3, 2009 in New York City. His 1973 book 'Awakenings' was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated film. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)[/caption]82 year old neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who died of liver cancer last month, was renowned for his unusual case studies and eloquent writings on the human brain and consciousness. But decades ago, as a boy in England, Sacks was already dipping his feet into the lab -- mixing up chemicals in the family laundry room. In the New Yorker in 1999, Sacks writes "Eventually, after I had filled the house one day with vile-smelling (and very toxic) hydrogen sulfide, they insisted that I install a small fume cupboard, and a special drain for corrosive liquids—and that with dangerous experiments I wear gloves and goggles. " Homer Hickham's Garage-built Rockets [caption id="attachment_612" align="" width="1067"] Novelist Homer Hickam chats with his father on the coal mine black phone in 1948. As a teenager, Hickam started learning how to build rockets in his garage. (Photo:[/caption]Novelist Homer Hickam , a former NASA scientist & the writer who chronicled his boyhood rocket-building in the bestseller Rocket Boys , started building rockets as teenager with some aluminum tubing he found under the back porch.Hickham writes “ we had to start somewhere, either succeed or fail, and then build what we knew as we went along .” Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter [caption id="attachment_615" align="" width="900"] Mary Anning (by B.J. Donne)[/caption]Mary Anning started digging up dinosaur bones when she was a kid along the cliffs of Lyme. But she wasn't just out scouting the bones for fun—she was helping her family make an extra buck: In the late 1700 and early 1800s, tourists to the coast near Lyme would buy the fossils as souvenirs. Anning quickly found the first complete Ichthyosaur skeleton at age 12, in 1811. The Natural History Museum in England dubbed her the “ greatest fossil hunter ever known .” Ronald McNair's Library Disobedience [caption id="attachment_614" align="" width="700"] Ronald McNair (Photo: AP)[/caption]Before NASA Astronaut Ronald McNair became a renown laser physicist or traveled into space, he made history when at nine years old he checked out a book at his local Lake City, South Carolina library.In 1959, McNair refused to leave the library without checking out a few titles , prompting the librarian to remind him “we don't circulate books to Negroes.” After she called in the cops (and his mom), he was allowed to take a few science and calculus books home. McNair went on to become the second black astronaut NASA sent into space. He died at age 35—aboard the 1986 Challenger mission.[youtubevid id="okF5UGpivR8"] Srinivasa Ramanujan's Self-Taught Math Education [caption id="attachment_616" align="" width="1020"] Srinivasa Ramanujan (Konrad Jacobs/Oberwolfach Photo Collection)[/caption]Srinivasa Ramanujan was a teenager in rural India when a student boarder staying at his house lent him a trigonometry textbook. Largely self-taught, Ramanujan would go on to contribute thousands of new and unconventional theorems and equations to the field of mathematics before his death at age 32. Mary Somerville's "Unladylike" Love Of Math [caption id="attachment_617" align="" width="859"] Mary Sommerville (British Library)[/caption]Mary Somerville also learned much of what she knew about math and science from picking up books. But many in Somerville's family discouraged her, calling the late 18th-century studying "unladylike." Sommerville went on to write math and science textbooks that were used for more than a hundred years, and in her words, translated science and math "into common language." Neil deGrasse Tyson Turned Down Carl Sagan [caption id="attachment_475425782" align="" width="640"] Astrophysicist and host of 'COSMOS', Neil deGrasse Tyson poses with award during The 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony, May 31, 2015. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Peabody Awards)[/caption]Neil DeGrasse Tyson's admissions essay to Cornell was so “ dripping with interest in the universe ” (his words, not mine), that when he went for his admissions interview, he got a personal meeting with Carl Sagan. Sagan even gave Tyson a ride back to the bus station and told him to take down his number in case he got stuck in the snow and needed a place to stay.But despite being offered the storm home, teenage Tyson didn't go to Cornell. He had to follow the science -- his homemade decision matrix, which showed there was just one school which boasted the most authors of Scientific American articles. Tyson was Harvard-bound. Evariste Galois: Dueling Mathematician [caption id="attachment_618" align="" width="1111"] Evariste Galois[/caption]At age 20 Frenchman Evariste Galois was having trouble balancing his schedule: publishing papers on continued fractions and polynomial equations, staying up studying math, while also preparing for a few revolutionary duels. Before his last, fateful duel, he stayed up all night writing letters to friends with his ideas and math manuscripts. And on May 30th, 1832, he was shot in the abdomen -- Galois died the next day. Maria Mitchell, Kid Astronomer [caption id="attachment_619" align="" width="1032"] Maria Mitchell[/caption]Maria Mitchell recorded her first eclipse with her dad when she was 12—at age 29, she would become the first American to find her own comet (Miss Mitchell's Comet). A fierce proponent of education for girls, she also started a school to teach them math and science when she was 17. Steve Jobs' "Free" Phone Calls [caption id="attachment_606" align="" width="921"] Steve Jobs, former chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the iCloud storage system at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, June 6, 2011. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg[/caption]And at age 14, Steve Jobs was already messing with the phones. He made long distance calls for free using a “blue box” that acted as his own personal router. Jobs later referred to the phreaking as a “ technical challenge. " 38 years later, the iPhone was born. A special thanks to my colleagues at Forbes: Helen Popkin , Kevin Knudson , Ethan Siegel & Alex Knapp , who know some pretty awesome scientists.