When Sabrina Pasterski walked onto the MIT campus for the first time, she was only seeking the OK for a single-engine plane she had built. Pasterski, who was 14 at the time, had already flown solo. “I couldn’t believe it,” Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT told reporters, “not only because she was so young, but a girl.” Nearly half of the undergrads at MIT are women, but Udden was not expecting something so amazing to come from a modest, lanky 14-year-old. She was so fascinated, but not only helped to get Pasterski’s plane approved, she also got the attention to the university’s top professors.
Eight years later, the ambitious teen has transformed into a 22-year-old MIT graduate and Harvard Ph.D. candidate with a reputation for tackling some of the most challenging and complex issues in physics. She seems to be driven by the same genius that has been recognized in Hawking and Einstein and her research delves into black holes, the nature of gravity, and the rules of spacetime. One of her particular focuses is trying to understand “quantum gravity,” or finding an explanation of gravity within the context of quantum mechanics. Discoveries around quantum gravity could dramatically change the way we understand the universe.
Pasterski has been a hit among experts working at NASA and aerospace developer and manufacturer Blue Origin, but to the larger world, she remains relatively unknown. The ambitious Cuban-American stays off of social media and doesn’t even own a smartphone. But you can find her genius in her papers on semiclassical Virasoro symmetry of the quantum S-matrix or on her website called PhysicsGirl, which features a long list of achievements.
Pasterski defines her passion as “spotting elegance within the chaos” and says she has always been drawn to challenging what she knows to be possible.
“Years of pushing the bounds of what I could achieve led me to physics,” she told columnists, calling physics “elegant” and full of “utility.
Pasterski is someone to keep an eye on. Her professors believe we could see great things from her in the future.