Lori Witmer recalls that while pushing her son Jeremy in a shopping cart as a young child, he would recite the numbers on the grocery store checkouts, even though she had not yet taught him how to read numbers.
At the age of 10, Jeremy informed Lori and her husband Barry that he wanted to be a nuclear physicist.
“That’s great, son. What’s that?” Lori remembers asking him.
When Jeremy was in middle school, a child psychologist tested his intellectual abilities, and he scored off the charts. He was bumped ahead a grade into Yale Secondary in Abbotsford.
At the age of 16 (in photo at left), Jeremy earned a bronze medal in the International Chemistry Olympiad in England.
Fast forward five years, and Jeremy is continuing to astound his parents – and others – with his talents.
The 2009 graduate of Yale Secondary leaves this week for Stanford, Calif., where he will begin a five-year PhD program in applied sciences at the prestigious Stanford University.
All his costs, including tuition and stipend, will be covered for the program, after Witmer received a Stanford Graduate Fellowship in Engineering and Science – the most prestigious award that the university hands out to an incoming graduate student.
It was one of several PhD programs to which Jeremy, 21, was accepted after achieving a perfect score of 990 on the physics GRE (graduate record exam), which is an admissions requirement for grad programs in the U.S.
He was also accepted to MIT, Caltech, Yale, UC Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Toronto.
Jeremy said it was a difficult decision to settle on Stanford, among all those other world-class institutions, but he chose it because of its “excellent reputation, its close connection with the tech industry in the Silicon Valley, its well-rounded research programs … and its beautiful campus and gorgeous weather.”
He said receiving the scholarship is a huge honour.
“It means that I can pursue my studies over the next few years without worrying about it burdening me financially. Because my funding comes directly from the university and is not tied to any particular research group, it also means that I’ll have more flexibility in terms of selecting a group and research topic.”
Jeremy graduated in May of this year from the University of B.C. with a bachelor of applied science in engineering physics, achieving an overall average of 95 per cent and receiving more than a dozen UBC scholarships for academic achievement.
At Stanford, he plans to do his research in the field of nanophotonics, in which carefully engineered nanostructures are used to control light at minuscule scales.
His long-term goal is to either be a university professor or to work as a research scientist in the tech industry, doing cutting-edge research and development.
“I love that this is a field which challenges me academically and forces me to be in a state of constant growth and learning,” Jeremy said of applied physics.
“It’s amazing that the complicated world can be understood in terms of elegant physical theories, and equally beautiful that these theories can be applied to create real, useful devices that improve people’s lives.”
Lori said she and Barry are proud parents who admire that their son is not only intellectually gifted, but is a “well-rounded person” who is well-liked and respected among his peers.
“He is very humble about who he is. He wouldn’t even tell his grandmother about his accomplishments if I didn’t encourage him to,” Lori laughs.