Kim Ung-Yong: The 8-year-old child prodigy who worked for NASA

What would you do if you were the smartest man on the planet? It may sound ridiculous, but it’s exactly the sort of question that Kim Ung-Yong grappled with.

Born with an innate and unparalleled aptitude for learning, his intellectual capabilities were evident from an early age. His genius was clear before he could even walk.

The story of Kim Ung-Yong is one of an extraordinary mind. He had mental capabilities beyond our wildest dreams, and he achieved intellectual feats nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Oddly enough, his name is hardly known today. What happened to the child genius from South Korea, Kim Ung-Yong?

Born a Prodigy

Son of a physics professor father and a mother who taught at Seoul National University, Kim-Ung Yong seemed to be destined for academic greatness from the start. However, no one could have imagined how his intellect would develop.

Born on March 8, 1962, in the capital of South Korea, Seoul, Kim wasted no time fueling his intellect. At just a year old, Kim already mastered both the Korean alphabet and over 1,000 Chinese characters.

By three, he was solving calculus problems. He also, astoundingly, published – with the help of his parents – a 247-page book of essays, calligraphy, and illustrations in both English and German!

Kim Ung-Yong’s incredible and insatiable intellect seemed to explode into existence from the moment of his birth. And, despite his youth, Kim’s talents were undeniable. The Korean genius quickly gained international attention.

By the age of five, he already spoke five different languages fluently – Korean, Japanese, English, German, and French. He even attended a physics class at Hanyang University.

It was clear from the outset that Kim’s exceptional abilities would change the course of his life, and maybe even that of humanity, forever.

One of the Highest IQs in the World

Kim’s prodigious intelligence and exceptional abilities attracted plenty of attention from a very young age. And the child prodigy would continue to impress.

At four years old, Kim astounded professionals by scoring an astonishing 210 on an IQ test designed for seven-year-olds. This impressive feat led him to obtain the world’s highest IQ by the Guinness Book of World Records (though Marilyn vos Savant would take the record not long after).

His reputation continued to grow when he demonstrated his mathematical abilities on Japanese television at the age of five. On Fuji TV, in Japan, Kim Ung-Yong appeared on viewers’ screens, solving complex differential and integral calculus problems to their amazement.

Kim’s relentless displays of intellect would even grab the attention of one of the world’s most renowned organizations.

NASA Researcher at Eight Years Old

Kim Ung-Yong’s extraordinary intelligence got him recruited by the world-renowned space agency, NASA, at the age of eight.

An opportunity that was unheard of for someone so young, Kim knew he had to take it. He worked for NASA for about a decade. During this time, he constantly amazed his colleagues with his exceptional memory and with his ability to solve complex mathematical problems.

However, working at NASA wasn’t all it was chalked up to be, and his new life wasn’t easy. He felt lonely and isolated. He had no friends other than the adults he worked with, who were older and too busy to socialize with him.

Despite not even being a teenager, he worked incredibly hard and made many valuable contributions to the organization. But, eventually, he grew disillusioned with the work he was doing. Kim felt that his research was being used for destructive purposes and that his superiors were taking credit for his hard work and ideas.

Feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and unhappy, Kim decided to return to South Korea in 1978 and finish his schooling. He completed all of his requisite studies and earned his high school equivalency degree in just two years. After this, he enrolled in a regional university to study civil engineering.

Kim’s decision was met with skepticism and criticism from those who saw his departure from NASA as a waste of his incredible talents. Despite all his prior achievements, the rest of his life would be plagued with these sorts of critiques.

Life as a “Failed Genius”

After completing his Ph.D., Kim Ung-Yong quietly obtained a position in a Korean company named Chungbuk Development, working as a middle manager.

The former child prodigy was criticized by some as a “failed genius” for not living up to the incredible intellect he possessed. Still, he’s remained optimistic and quite content with his life.

In 2007, he worked as an adjunct faculty member at Chungbuk National University. In 2014, Kim finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a professor. Finally leaving Chungbuk Development, he joined the staff of Shinhan University as an associate professor at the ripe age of 51 years old.

Upon starting his new position, Kim reportedly told media outlets he was incredibly excited, saying, “I will devote myself to teaching the next generation.”

Although his resume falls short of extraordinary, it seems Kim Ung-Yong instead decided from an early age to prioritize happiness over the world records, high IQ, and ‘success’ of his childhood.

Lessons to Learn from the World’s Smartest Man

Many may see the life of Kim Ung-Yong as disappointing or a failure. But there are better lessons to learn from his twisting, fascinating life story.

The legacy of Kim Ung-Yong is one of choosing a peaceful and happy life over glory, success, or wealth.

Despite his exceptional intellectual abilities as a young child, he didn’t find happiness in his role as a “child prodigy.” It wasn’t until he settled into a comfortable, calmer life that he found a content existence.

He contributed much to society during his early life. Perhaps one of the most important lessons he contributed was recognizing the importance of choosing happiness. He ensured that his life belonged to himself, not his peers, nor their visions of his posterity and legacy.

He even said of his own choices, “I’m trying to tell people that I am happy the way I am.”


Hussaini, Ambreen Shehzad. “Intelligence Quotient: The World’s Smartest People.” Dawn,, 28 Sept. 2013,

“Kim Ung-Yong: A Former Child Prodigy Who Secured His Ph.D. At 8.” Global Child Prodigy Awards, 9 July 2021,

McDonough, Rane. “Wisdom from the Smartest Man in the World.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 26 Sept. 2013,

Min-sik, Yoon. “Former Child Genius to Become Full-Time University Professor.” The Korea Herald, The Korea Herald, 14 Jan. 2014,

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