UP’s youngest student graduates cum laude with BSc Honours in physics
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Pretoria - In 2017, Hjalmar Rall made history when he enrolled at the University of Pretoria (UP) at the age of 14 for a BSc in physics. He recently graduated cum laude with a BSc Honours in physics during this year’s autumn graduation season, and plans to continue his studies abroad.
Rall, 18, told the Pretoria News yesterday that his field of specialisation, quantum information theory research, was not offered in South Africa. “I’m going into academia and I’m going to do research in physics. I will have to go abroad unfortunately because my field of specialisation is only offered in a few countries worldwide.”
Rall, who hails from Riebeek-Kasteel in the Western Cape, said his love for maths had been the greatest motivation in his academic journey. “It is the love of maths. It is about chasing answers that will make great contributions to the broad knowledge of physics,” he said.
Having to enrol at a university at a young age posed a challenge for him as he struggled to fit into an institution where there were older people around him. However, he learnt to cope with the environment on campus and “at the end of my second year I had settled in completely”.
He believed that home-schooling prepared him for an academic life, and enabled him to complete his university studies without much difficulty.
“Although there were a handful of modules which seemed completely impossible to pass, some of them frightened me … but once I ignored that, it was simply a matter of putting in enough hours of effort and practice.”
Rall said he looked up to theoretical physicist Sidney Richard Coleman, describing him as “the greatest physics lecturer of all time”. “He did a lot for the world’s understanding of physics. He was one of the best. I am aspiring to be like him and I would like to lecture one day. It is about the sharing of knowledge.”
He expressed his gratitude to his father, who has been a pillar of support for him throughout his journey.
He started school at the age of 6, but left after Grade 5 to follow the Cambridge curriculum and was home-schooled by his father.
The Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education curriculum is a two-year programme with exams set, marked and certificated by Cambridge University in the UK.
Rall said he was preoccupied with doing research, and that he didn’t have time for socialising, like going to the movies.
“There is not so much time for that (social life) because I mostly interacted with people in my classes,” he said.