Sabur, 19, will begin teaching physics next month at the Department of Advanced Technology Fusion at Konkuk University, Korea. It will be just another entry on the teenager’s laden CV, which reveals she received a bachelor’s degree at 14 and a masters in materials science at 17.
Something might be awry here, though. There’s nothing wrong with the media adopting the American English definition of “professor” (i.e. any university teacher) — after all, Sabur was born in New York. But it appears that the previous record holder was Scottish physicist Colin Maclaurin, who was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Aberdeen when he was a few months over 19 in 1717.
I might have to explain to our international readers that in the UK “professor” is a more distinguished title, reserved for heads-of-departments and the like. (At least it has been as far back as any of us at Physics World can vouch for.) Sabur, I note, is yet to defend her PhD.
Does this mean the titles of Sabur and Maclaurin are being confused? Does Maclaurin, who is credited with the mathematical “Maclaurin series”, deserve to keep his accolade?
Of course, science was a considerably narrower discipline back in the 18th century, and achieving a professorship might have taken a little less time than it does today (it certainly wouldn’t have required a PhD). But Maclaurin can’t defend his honour, and offhand I don’t know enough about science in the early 1700s to cast a vote either way.
Do any of you have any thoughts? Feel free to comment below.