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"What makes me happy? Wiener Schnitzel and to deliver good work"

Maximilian Janisch is known as a math genius and the youngest student in Switzerland. We talked to the biGENiUS ambassador about how much IQ and success are connected, why math is so important, especially in the IT world, and where he is drawn to after graduating from the University of Zurich.

Oliver Bosse spoke with Maximilian Janisch

You've already achieved an incredible amount by the age of 17. What drives you?
I enjoy my projects and the subject areas I work in. Maths, in particular, brings me a great deal of joy.

You have an IQ of 149+. How much of your success do you ascribe to your IQ and how much to other factors?
IQ is primarily a measure for the success you are expected to achieve at school and university. And I was successful in this area.

What does intelligence mean to you?
The ability to resolve previously unfamiliar problems.

It's almost impossible to compare you or other gifted students with your peers. How do you see yourself when you compare yourself to others your own age?
Apart from my work in mathematics and IT, I believe that I'm a completely normal 17-year-old.

What does this mean for your social life and friendships?
On average, my friends are a few years older than I am, particularly because it's quite tricky to find people my age who are interested in differential geometry, for example. But I'm very happy with my "social life".

On average, my friends are a few years older than I am, particularly because it's quite tricky to find people my age who are interested in differential geometry, for example.

You are also involved in promoting gifted students. Why does this issue mean so much to you?
There is an enormous amount of potential talent inside teenagers and we are failing to tap into it. What's more, I think that every child and teenager has the right to receive adequate support and encouragement.

What keeps Maximilian Janisch busy away from mathematics?
I love foreign languages and IT, particularly machine learning.

Where do you stand on typical interests of others your age, like music, football and going out?
I am really interested in music. Football, for example, is less interesting for me.

What would your advice be for other 17-year-olds?
Do your own thing and don't get discouraged.

Aside from your degree, you're also active in industry, write programs for process optimisation and are looking into machine learning at the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM). What are you working on right now?
That's right. At CSEM, I am working on a very exciting project with the aim of predicting the intensity of the sun's rays based on images of the sky. In general at CSEM, I am primarily involved in image processing by machine learning.

I am working on a very exciting project with the aim of predicting the intensity of the sun's rays based on images of the sky.

What is it about artificial intelligence that you find so fascinating?
Thanks to the progress made in machine learning, computers are able to solve problems that used to be impossible to solve (for computers). Even telling the difference between images of cats and dogs (coincidentally, the 8th August, my birthday, is World Cat Day) – a very easy task for humans – was impossible prior to the advancement of artificial intelligence.

What are your plans for the future – in both your professional and private life?
In terms of my professional life, the answer is easy: First, I will finish my Masters at Zurich University in six months' time; three or four years later, I will get my PhD, possibly from Princeton. When it comes to my private life, my approach is "Que sera sera."

Why Princeton?
My mentor Camillo De Lellis was given a role at Princeton Institute for Advanced Study two years ago. Coincidentally, Albert Einstein also spent 22 years at this institute. It is one of the world's leading research institutes for mathematics.

Do you have a role model?
There are dozens of academics, who have achieved exceptionally notable and exemplary things. One important example is Noam Chomsky: He can be regarded as the founder of modern linguistics, but he is also involved in politics. I have been invited to visit him in Tucson, Arizona, next year.

What makes you happy?
Wiener Schnitzel and delivering good work.

What is worse: a lack of humour or stupidity?
Stupidity is more dangerous (and unfortunately also more widespread).

Stupidity is more dangerous than a lack of humour – and unfortunately more widespread.

Maths teachers always preach how important the subject is to our lives. Where do you see the importance of maths in life?
Even a hundred years ago, it was difficult verging on the impossible to apply the abstract results of mathematics. However, the rise of computers has put the human race in a brand new position: All of a sudden, the importance of mathematics to day-to-day life has grown massively and now it is used almost everywhere. For example, do you know how your email got to me?

No, how's that?
Let's say you're writing an e-mail to max@muster.mann. Your outgoing e-mail server contacts a corresponding DNS server to translate the e-mail address into an IP address like Your e-mail is now split up into lots of little “packages”. Every package contains the address of the sender and recipient. Using relatively sophisticated algorithms, the packages are sent to the recipient over various routes from router to router. Once it has arrived, the original e-mail can be reconstructed.

Is there anything that you don't know but would like to learn?
I encounter this feeling every day with maths. You could fill libraries full of unsolved mathematical problems. One almost infamous example is the Collatz conjecture. The question is: If I start with any positive whole number (e.g. 5, 8, 17 or 12345) and I divide this number by two if it is even or multiply it by three and add one if it is odd, and then repeat this process any number of times, will I always end up at 1 at some point? The question has been unanswered since 1937.

Could you set a maths question for our readers – one that an adult should be able to solve?
Easy: Achilles and the tortoise are running on a race track. Since Achilles is ten times faster than the tortoise, the tortoise gets a 100-kilometre head start. How far will Achilles have run before he has caught up with the tortoise?

Difficult: How long do the sides of a chess board have to be for you to be able to cover it with the following pyramid shape without any gaps?

This was one of the questions in an assessment I did when I was 10. I spent many nights gluing pyramids together.

About Maximilian Janisch

Maximilian Janisch (*2003) is a Swiss highly talented teenager who graduated from high school with top marks in mathematics at the age of nine. He is currently completing his Master's degree in mathematics at the University of Zurich. Maximilian is ambassador of the data automation tool biGENIUS.


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