World / Offbeat

Nine-year-old Belgian boy set to become world's youngest university graduate

Reuters

As he cradles his young puppy in his arms, Laurent Simons looks much like any other 9-year-old boy. Then he starts describing his work at a university in the Netherlands, developing a computer circuit that will replicate a part of the brain.

“What we are doing is placing neurons and making connections, to see what the reaction is to medication in a part of the brain,” he says of the brain-on-chip project, which combines the biomedical and electrical engineering fields.

With an IQ of 145, the Belgian boy wonder is on track to become the world’s youngest university graduate when he completes a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Eindhoven’s University of Technology next month.

“I’m planning to start my Ph.D. and study a little medicine, but before that — vacation,” he said of his postgraduation plans as Sammy the 9-week-old puppy dozed in the arms of his mother, Lydia.

Laurent — who was born in Belgium but now lives in the Netherlands — started university after completing high school in roughly a year and is set to finish the three-year bachelor’s program in just nine months.

“Every professor is really enthusiastic about having Laurent, and for us it’s a unique situation, of course, because he’s the youngest student we’ve ever had,” said program director Sjoerd Hulshof.

“The speed of his mind — we cannot imagine what is happening in his head. He’s maybe three times smarter than the smartest student we’ve ever had.”

Currently the youngest person to obtain a college degree is American Michael Kearney, who achieved the feat in June 1994 at the age of 10 years 4 months, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

When he is not at the university, Laurent says he walks the dog, plays the video games Minecraft and Fortnite or posts pictures on Instagram.

Inspired by Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, he plans to research artificial organs and ultimately develop an entire artificial body in his own laboratory. “My grandparents are heart patients,” he explained of the choice.

Offers are flooding in from universities around the world, and Laurent’s parents are helping him weigh the options, with the U.S. West Coast currently a favorite destination.

His father, Alexander, doesn’t dare predict Laurent’s future because the boy has smashed every expectation so far — but he stressed there is no hurry.

“What he’s doing now is playing with education, just playing around,” he said. “And that’s fine with us.”