Smart Performers

The NY Times has a nice piece on Natalie Portman… and that fact that as a student at Syosset High School on Long Island back in the late 1990s, Ms. Portman made it all the way to the semifinal rounds of the Intel Science Talent Search competition with an investigation into a new, “environmentally friendly” method of converting waste into useful forms of energy. She did this while maintaining the straight-A average she’d managed since grade school, as well as being a rising movie star. Portman later went on to Harvard University to study neuroscience and the evolution of the mind. According to one of her professors, whether as a student in her class or a research assistant in her lab Portman never once asked for an extension or to be excused from her responsibilities. If she was scheduled to appear on the Letterman show, for example, she would finish her paper early.

The article mentions some other famous super-bright actresses:

Hedy Lamarr, the actress habitually regarded as “that most beautiful woman in Hollywood,” was a rocket scientist on the side, inventing and patenting a torpedo guidance technique she called “frequency hopping,” which thwarted efforts to jam the signals that kept the missiles on track.

Danica McKellar, who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she helped devise a mathematical proof for certain properties of magnetic fields — a theorem that bears her name along with those of her collaborators. She also writes popular books about math with clever PG-13 titles like “Math Doesn’t Suck” and “Kiss My Math.”

Mayim Bialik who starred in “Blossom” and now plays a neurobiologist on “The Big Bang Theory,” … and who has a Ph.D. from U.C.L.A. in … neurobiology. “I tell people, I am a neuroscientist, and I play one on TV,” says Dr. Bialik. She did research on the brain chemistry of patients with a genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome, and she loved being “hooded” for her doctorate while she was “very, very pregnant” with her second child. “Better pregnant and getting a doctorate,” she said, “than pregnant at your high school graduation.”

I love stories like this!