Saturday, 16 January 2010

New horizons for beautiful mind

New horizons for beautiful mind

Article from Yorkshire Post - October 27, 2009


MEETING and introducing new people was never easy for Daniel Lightwing at school in Yorkshire but now he lives in a city of 17 million people and plays an unlikely role in helping Britain forge closer links with China.

In three amazing years at Cambridge University, Mr Lightwing got married, graduated in two subjects, appeared in a feature-length film and a television documentary, and was named one of the best child stars ever to appear on screen.

Now the 21-year-old's impressive CV boasts a further distinction after he became the first British student to be awarded a Chinese government scholarship to study at Beijing University.

Not bad for a young man whose problems at school were only explained after he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism which affects how he relates to others.

Millions of television viewers were introduced to Mr Lightwing, from York, in the film Beautiful Young Minds, which was screened on BBC2 in October 2007.

The Bafta and Emmy-nominated film followed his year-long quest to become a member of the UK maths team and his gap-year trip to China, where he met his future wife Yan.

Yan's difficulties in obtaining a visa and immigration clearance were also followed by the film-makers, and the cameras were present at the couple's wedding in York in December 2006.

Mr Lightwing's story delighted movie critics, and earlier this year film magazine The Big Picture included him in its list of most appealing child stars, along with actors from the films Slumdog Millionaire, Life is Beautiful, Pan's Labyrinth and Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Last year, Mr Lightwing was featured in a documentary for the Australian TV science programme Catalyst, which looked at the link between having Asperger and thinking with a highly mathematical mind.

He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, this summer after majoring in both maths and Chinese, having already applied for the Beijing scholarship.

His mother Carolyn said: "The fact that he was not only good at the Chinese but also another subject persuaded the Oriental Studies department at Cambridge to nominate him.

"He had to write a description of himself in Chinese and he had to be backed by three people from the university to write references for him."He applied for it back in February but didn't hear until August. He is delighted that his application was successful."

Mr Lightwing, who was educated at York College and St Peter's School, moved to China in June, not knowing whether he would be awarded the scholarship but keen to get on to another course if he was not successful.

The scholarship fully sponsors his tuition fees, health insurance, accommodation, living and travel expenses for seven years of postgraduate study.

He has begun studying for a masters degree in linguistics and applied linguistics, specialising in computational linguistics, and he hopes to follow this with a PhD in syntax and programming.

Mrs Lightwing, who hopes to travel to China next summer, said: "It's a lot of money and a very high-value scholarship, and I think it shows that there are efforts to promote relations between the UK and China."

Quite a few people have come from the US in the past, but we believe that Daniel is the first student from the UK to be awarded a scholarship like this."

He has always said that he finds it easier out there than he does in the UK, and apparently that is quite common in people with Asperger."

People in China understand better some of the difficulties he has, and particularly the problems he has when he meets people for the first time, because he is in a foreign country.

"I think, in this country, he finds it harder because people do not expect him to have such difficulties when he is meeting them for the first time."I think he would like to stay in academia, but he is also very interested in syntax and I think he would love to work for a company like Microsoft.

"He is interested in the interaction between computer language and human language, which is a field of study that could help other people with Asperger."


Daniel Lightwing was chosen to represent the UK in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a global maths competition attended by 500 students from about 100 different countries.

Beautiful Young Minds charted his progress from the first UK squad selection meeting in November 2005, through to the main contesr in Slovenia a year later.

He went on to win a silver medal in the IMO, a test with six questions so difficult that only half of the 500 competitors were able to attempt more than two answers.

©2010 Johnston Press Digital Publishing

The original article can be found here:


This is a follow-up to my recent posts. Other articles I have posted about Daniel Lightwing can be found here:

Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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