The 16-Year-Old Who's Smarter than Einstein


A 16-year-old girl from Essex, England made headlines in February for a shocking scandal of the academic variety: After a wild weekend out with some friends from school taking the Mensa IQ test, she came away with an intelligence score a single point higher than Albert Einstein’s.

Lauren Marbe, self-professed normal teenager with a fondness for acrylic nails and getting dressed up for nights out, tested with an IQ of 161—higher than Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and celebrated cosmologist Stephen Hawking, and both Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and co-founder Paul Allen, all of whom are estimated by experts to have IQs topping out at 160. Despite maintaining a consistent record of straight-A grades and acing her science GCSE—a British standardized test—a year before her peers were scheduled to take it, Marbe surprised her parents, teachers, and herself by so thoroughly bucking both the “Essex girl” and dumb blonde stereotypes.

With her new membership in Mensa and certified intelligence, this teenage genius can be confident that she has a wealth of potential at her disposal, which she hopes to put to use either as a singer and actress on London’s West End or in studying for an architecture degree at the University of Cambridge, consistently ranked one of the best educational institutions in the world. She’ll be able to wear her 161 score as a badge of honor, and there has to be some thrill in thinking, “I’m smarter than Einstein!”

Detractors, however, point out that IQ scores are poor measures of actual intelligence, failing to account for all of its often untestable dimensions. While high-IQ individuals like Einstein, Charles Darwin, and chess Grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer may go on to successful, celebrated careers as intellectuals, others may as easily fade quietly into the woodwork. Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis of Greece, currently the living holder of the highest IQ in the world at 198, signs off as “MD, MSc, PhD,” emphasizing to the world that he is all kinds of smart. Nevertheless, his achievements are relatively modest compared to evolution and E=mc2. (He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.)

It’s also important to note that Einstein’s 160 IQ was never official—that is, he was never tested for it. Today’s standardized intelligence tests did not exist at the time Einstein was living; his supposed IQ is an estimate based on his achievements, much like the supposedly high IQs of fellow historical “geniuses” like Descartes, Mozart, Galileo Galilei, and Immanuel Kant, some of whom were estimated to have higher scores than Einstein. In that case, Lauren Marbe’s achievement isn’t the one point she has over Einstein, but what she eventually does with it. After all, IQ ain’t nothing but a number.

Curious how you might stack up against the geniuses of yesterday and today? Check out the IQ Test Gift Box in the Mental Floss store—get one for yourself and one for a friend, and fight over who gets to be Einstein and who gets to be Lauren Marbe.

Mario Tama, Getty Images
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

Big Questions
Do Bacteria Have Bacteria?

Drew Smith:

Do bacteria have bacteria? Yes.

We know that bacteria range in size from 0.2 micrometers to nearly one millimeter. That’s more than a thousand-fold difference, easily enough to accommodate a small bacterium inside a larger one.

Nothing forbids bacteria from invading other bacteria, and in biology, that which is not forbidden is inevitable.

We have at least one example: Like many mealybugs, Planococcus citri has a bacterial endosymbiont, in this case the β-proteobacterium Tremblaya princeps. And this endosymbiont in turn has the γ-proteobacterium Moranella endobia living inside it. See for yourself:

Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)
Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)

I don’t know of examples of free-living bacteria hosting other bacteria within them, but that reflects either my ignorance or the likelihood that we haven’t looked hard enough for them. I’m sure they are out there.

Most (not all) scientists studying the origin of eukaryotic cells believe that they are descended from Archaea.

All scientists accept that the mitochondria which live inside eukaryotic cells are descendants of invasive alpha-proteobacteria. What’s not clear is whether archeal cells became eukaryotic in nature—that is, acquired internal membranes and transport systems—before or after acquiring mitochondria. The two scenarios can be sketched out like this:

The two hypotheses on the origin of eukaryotes:

(A) Archaezoan hypothesis.

(B) Symbiotic hypothesis.

The shapes within the eukaryotic cell denote the nucleus, the endomembrane system, and the cytoskeleton. The irregular gray shape denotes a putative wall-less archaeon that could have been the host of the alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont, whereas the oblong red shape denotes a typical archaeon with a cell wall. A: archaea; B: bacteria; E: eukaryote; LUCA: last universal common ancestor of cellular life forms; LECA: last eukaryotic common ancestor; E-arch: putative archaezoan (primitive amitochondrial eukaryote); E-mit: primitive mitochondrial eukaryote; alpha:alpha-proteobacterium, ancestor of the mitochondrion.

The Archaezoan hypothesis has been given a bit of a boost by the discovery of Lokiarcheota. This complex Archaean has genes for phagocytosis, intracellular membrane formation and intracellular transport and signaling—hallmark activities of eukaryotic cells. The Lokiarcheotan genes are clearly related to eukaryotic genes, indicating a common origin.

Bacteria-within-bacteria is not only not a crazy idea, it probably accounts for the origin of Eucarya, and thus our own species.

We don’t know how common this arrangement is—we mostly study bacteria these days by sequencing their DNA. This is great for detecting uncultivatable species (which are 99 percent of them), but doesn’t tell us whether they are free-living or are some kind of symbiont. For that, someone would have to spend a lot of time prepping environmental samples for close examination by microscopic methods, a tedious project indeed. But one well worth doing, as it may shed more light on the history of life—which is often a history of conflict turned to cooperation. That’s a story which never gets old or stale.

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