In every generation, there are a few people who take the world by storm because of their brilliance and curiosity, and often change the way people think. These are the very people who keep pushing our world forward. Newton, Columbus, Lincoln and Edison were such persons; they realized the potential they had and changed the world forever.
There is, however, another class of people who have similar potential, but for some reason their potential is wasted and they are unable to live up to their promises.
This list includes 10 such people who had immense potential but they could not, or have not been able to, exploit it completely either because of circumstances or because of their own faults.
1. Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier was a French chemist who was hailed as an absolute genius. It was he who established the facts that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, and that oxygen is responsible for combustion and respiration. He coined the terms ‘carbon’, ‘oxygen’ and ‘hydrogen’. He proved that sulfur is an element and basically transformed alchemy into modern chemistry. The world could have benefited from him more, if he had not been held captive by the French revolutionaries at the age of 50. The French then beheaded Lavoisier accusing him of working against the country. The accusations were later proved to be false, but it was too late already.
2. Evariste Galois
Evariste Galois was probably one of the greatest mathematicians of all time who made some astounding contributions to the field and is regarded as the ‘pioneer of algebra’. He conveniently solved a problem 350 years old by determining a necessary requisite for a polynomial to be solvable and laid the foundation of what is today known as the Galois Theory. But he lived a life infested with misery. His father committed suicide the week he was supposed to sit in an entrance examination for a university. He failed. He had nevertheless tremendous potential.
He died at the age of just 20 after being shot during a duel. It is not clear what caused the duel, but Galois didn’t receive medical help for hours and died a long painful death. No one knows where the grave of this genius is. His last words to his brother were: “Don’t cry, for I need all my courage to die at 20 years of age.”
3. Maria Anna
Perhaps you would better remember her if I mention that she was the older sister of legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The world remembers Mozart as one of the greatest composers of all time, but very few know that his sister Maria was a child prodigy too and would have been another musical super-genius if only she was a man.
Many believed that Maria was a composer of greater caliber than Mozart but she wasn’t given the opportunity to thrive because then (and even now), it was believed that a woman of marriageable age making music and touring places risks her reputation. It is believed that some of the works of Mozart are actually Maria’s. She was instead encouraged to busy herself in household chores. Perhaps she did write some compositions, but those were neglected and we have lost them. Or perhaps, we have listened to her compositions and applauded Mozart for them!
4. Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley was an extraordinary British experimental physicist who, with the help of a self-created equipment, proved that every element’s unique identity is determined by the number of protons it has. He was able to predict the existence of four new elements, which were all discovered later, and we know them as technetium, promethium, hafnium and rhenium. He found faults with the periodic table and put forward the modern periodic law.
Moseley was a man of few words and perhaps introverted. He is attributed to the discovery of atomic battery and he would have contributed much to the world, if not at the age of 26 he enlisted in the British Army during the World War I against the wishes of many and died in battle in 1915.
It was such a loss for the country that after his death, the government imposed a ban on reputed scientists from performing front-line roles. While his volunteering should be respected, it is also a fact that his death was a tremendous loss for mankind.
5. Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage, the father of computing, is one of the most iconic figures in the world of computing today, but it is also a fact that Babbage spent most of his time in making designs for analog computers and didn’t really bother to make working models of them. Though it is equally true that his designs were ahead of his time and there was no technology available to make them at that time. The few simpler ones he made to keep his financial backers interested in his ideas worked absolutely flawlessly in the 19th century. The analytical designs he made even had a programming language.
The computer revolution had the potential to start much early but we are here, a century behind at least. Had Babbage’s potential been executed properly at that time, the world would be a completely different place by now.
6. Srinivasa Ramanujan
Srinivasa Ramanujan is one of the most revered mathematicians in India, but is still largely underrated in his own country, forget about the rest of the world.
Financially poor Ramanujan was a self-taught mathematician who, in his short life, compiled independently about 3,900 theorems, and all of them have been proved to be correct. He made extraordinary contributions in the fields of mathematical analysis, infinite series, continued numbers and number theory and came up with a horrendous looking formula that is able to calculate the accurate value of pi upto 6 decimal places which needed only one single term whereas the previous existing formula given by Leibniz Gregory needed a hectic 5,00,000 terms. Some of his works were so profound that it took several decades for others to make sense of them. In short, he was the Rajinikanth of mathematics.
Unfortunately, at the age of just 32 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died. The 2016 Hollywood movie ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ starring Dev Patel is based on his life.
7. Brandenn Bremmer
Brandenn Bremmer was a US child prodigy who taught himself reading and writing at the age of 18 months. By the age 3, he could play the piano. At 10 years of age he graduated from high school and completed higher secondary in the next seven months. He got into college at the age of 11 and started preparing to become an anesthesiologist.
He had a promising future ahead of him and seemed like no one could stop him from becoming someone the world would envy. But on March 2005, he shot himself and wrecked everything. Unlike others, he left no suicide note but it is assumed that he killed himself probably because of his belief that his organs would be of use to ailing patients.
In an interview few days after his suicide, his mother said that he was always in touch with spiritual world and he could hear people’s needs.
8. Branwell Bronte
Brother of famous novelists Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Branwell Bronte was always seen as a child prodigy and was believed to be destined for great accomplishments. He showed great proficiency in painting and literature, and at the age of 11 in 1829, he started a magazine by the name ‘Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine’ which would contain his poems, criticism, history and dialogues. He was a potential polymath. But as he grew, he found himself in the wrong company and gave in to alcohol and drugs, kept changing jobs and, wasting all his potential, died at the age of 31 years after a failed relationship with a married woman.
His sisters went on to write some of the most remarkable novels of the 19th century which has been inspiring movie adaptations till now.
9. Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson is considered one of the greatest Blues performers of all time. But much of his fame came after his death. Born on May 8, 1911, in Mississippi, not much is known about his life and only two pictures of him exist today (one of which is here). He died at the age of 27 and the cause of his death is unknown. His songs “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Sweet Home Chicago” are considered standards for Blues today, and legends like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones have recorded his songs.
But there is another interesting side of his poorly documented life. It is said that Johnson was a terrible guitarist, a decent harmonica player and didn’t have the talent he revealed to the world. But after he went missing for a few weeks, he returned with impressive skills and shocked everyone. Many orthodox people thought that Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil for fame and his sudden acquired skills were the result of this.
Though this point doesn’t exactly go with the introduction and title of the list, it is, however, the most important. For the most part of history, women have been anonymous and kept confined within walls, to their ‘proper places’ and denied education because that would be “unnecessary”. Who knows how many Einsteins, Newtons, Annas and Curies we ignored and killed in kitchens. How tragic it is that 50% of humanity, and not just one or two individuals, were made to shut their minds just because of their gender and it is still continuing today. But today is a better time, and hopefully tomorrow will be brighter because more women and men are standing up for the rights of women.