What sets him apart, however, is that he helped his chemistry professor father, Sven Hovmöller of Stockholm University, solve a problem his dad had been puzzling over for eight years — and then they published a scientific paper on it.
His father first thought of enlisting his son’s help when he saw how speedy the boy was in solving Sudoku puzzles. As he told the BBC in an interview, “And then I understood that he’s smarter than I am, and I thought he could help me solve the problem.”
The puzzle involved the structure of crystals called approximants. They are related to quasicrystals, which are atomic structures that had symmetries thought to be impossible, such as a five-fold symmetry; this example was thought impossible for the same reason a straight edge cannot be created using pentagonal tiles.
Out of six structures Sven had been trying to crack, they unlocked four of them — in two days.
Linus’s main contribution was coming at it with an absolutely clear mind, being smart and able to put the puzzle together. I sort of knew too many things and when I tried to do it myself, your brain just gets exhausted by all the different things you keep in your head at the same time. With a fresh, empty brain so to speak, you can do something.
Linus, who wants to be a scientist or artist, described the work to New Scientist like this: “What we did was to solve a set of puzzles, where the pieces were ‘wheels’ that could be connected in different ways.”
They published their paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.
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