Highest IQs Ever
The dominate, rigorously researched, and documented answer (who had the highest IQ) is German polymath Johann von Goethe (IQ = 210), second to Shakespeare in literature, with a vocabulary of over 90,000 words, inspiration to Darwin, with his theories on maxilla bone evolution, mental compatriot to Newton, with his theory of colors, and founder of the science of human chemistry, with his 1809 treatise Elective Affinities, wherein a human chemical reaction view of life is presented, some two-hundred years ahead of its time.
Other individuals, to note, can be found to have had stated IQs above 210 (either verbalized, e.g. Leonardo da Vinci (IQ = 225) or William Sidis (IQ = 250-300), or based on childhood ratios, e.g. Michael Kearney (IQ = 325) or Marilyn vos Savant (IQ = 225)), but these values are generally found to be over-estimates, based on oversimplification, when compared to that person's actual adult IQ or when each person is fitted into a robust comparative historical study (collective of 300 geniuses or more).
To give an example, at age four, American Michael Kearney scored 168-plus on an IQ test for six-year-olds and via mathematical juggling, using his age and test score, he was said to have what is called a "ratio-IQ" of 325. Twenty years later, however, although he turned out to be a relatively smart individual, completing a BS in anthropology (age 10), MS in biochemistry (age 14), and MS in computer science (age 17), he had difficulty getting past the half-way point on the pop-intelligence game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, leaving with only $25,000, implying that ratio or estimated IQs are not as accurate as historically-determined IQs.
More intelligence is clearly useful. Higher intelligence has been correlated to higher incomes in life and better job performance. However, national and regional systems and how a country or institution are run can have a big impact on scientific productivity and technological achievement. Russia has a lot of geniuses as does China and India. But for many decades they were held back inferior equipment, facilities.
Someone could be a "genius" race car driver (Schumacher) but if you are driving a Pinto and your opponent is driving a Ferrari then the guy in the Pinto will lose.
Someone could be a "genius" physicist but without equipment and resources it will far tougher to make the breakthroughs.
There can also be societal and other challenges to be overcome. There is the current resistance to investigation of low energy nuclear reactions (cold fusion).
Genius, Intelligence and Brain Size and Structure
There have been many studies of brain structure and size and correlations to intelligence
A 2004 study at the University of California, Irvine found that the volume of gray matter in parts of the cerebral cortex had a greater impact on intelligence than the brain's total volume. The findings suggest that the physical attributes of many parts of the brain -- rather than a centralized "intelligence center" -- determine how smart a person is.
A 1999 analysis of Albert Einstein's brain also seems to support this theory. Einstein's brain was slightly smaller than the average brain. However, parts of his parietal lobe were wider than most people's brains. The larger areas in Einstein's brain are related to mathematics and spatial reasoning. Einstein's parietal lobe was also nearly missing a fissure found in most people's brains. Analysts theorized that the absence of the fissure meant that different regions of his brain could communicate better.
A 2006 paper in the journal "Nature" theorized that the way the brain develops is more important than the size of the brain itself. A person's cerebral cortex gets thicker during childhood and thinner during adolescence. According to the study, the brains of children with higher IQs thickened faster than those of other children.
There was a CNN special by Sanjay Gupta on Genius: quest for extreme brain power
Some say that brain size does not matter at all. However, looking at comparisons across the animal kingdom brain size does come into play for intelligence.
The analogy is a car engine. It is far tougher to achieve high horsepower from something the size of a baseball than a fridge sized engine. It is possible to fine tune and get ten times more horsepower out of formala one engine than an engine that is the same size but more modest design.
It is known that nutritional deficiency and environmental pollution can damage brains and reduce intelligence. These factors (examples of people with apparently superior brain structure, many common things that reduce intelligence) suggests that there are many things that can be improved to raise intelligence without increasing the size of the brain.
There is recent work where stem cells are introduced into the brain to correct certain brain diseases. There are situations where more brain cells has advantages.
Brain enhancement (how much and how soon depends on how far from optimal we really are now. Is everyone losing 20-150IQ points because of rampant defects. some kind of thing that with analysis we can see. WOW this problem is endemic. Like air pollution is probably costing 20 IQ points and imperfect nutrition is probably costing another 20-30 IQ points. How easy is that damage to fix after living that way for 20-50 years ?
Brain/productivity enhancement would be the most impact on the overall betterment of humanity and civilization
ie Eat right and exercise and everyone could be 2-4 times stronger and healthier. Why wouldn't the same thing apply to brain function ? And if we can make the corrections in pills and other adjustments then maybe it is easy to get people to what is now 200-400 IQ. The other thing is the whole IQ score thing is imperfect.
Super-Virtual reality training and wearable computer cognitive aids could make everyone test out great.
The measure that I think is more important is expertise and productivity rather than IQ.
Programs for Increasing Chances of Breakthroughs
There is some support via DARPA for militarily relevant scientific breakthroughs, but there is far less of a formal system to encourage other types of scientific breakthroughs. Even if such breakthroughs might not take that much effort or involvement of genius.
The Department of Energy is now trying to fund some breakthroughs in Energy Technology, but there are many pre-existing biases as to what breakthroughs are possible or likely.
For space technology breakthroughs, if you have one trillion dollars and spend it all on defense satellites, communication satellites, TV satellites and chemical rockets and buildings on the ground then this will not result in breakthroughs into faster than light travel or wormholes. This is especially the case if studying faster than light travel or wormholes has formal or informal funding bans.
More funding for efforts to increase intelligence would also likely improve results and chances for success. It is not just intelligence but also research into breakthroughs in education, training and systems and tools for enhancing scientific productivity.
Better Education on Specific Topics that Make a Larger Pool of Researchers
There are now videos of better teachers for otpics like General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics available online This helps to lower the challenges needed for someone to understand what is already known and what the unknowns are where the frontiers of knowledge are.
There are also the Richard Feynmann videos on physics.
Teraflop or Better Computers Cheap
The availability of multi-teraflop servers for a few thousand dollars removes certain barriers for computational research.
Making More Experts
All expertise theorists agree that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.
What matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.
Automated and virtual reality systems can be created to enable easy access to effortful study (widespread effective mentoring and coaching).
More experts and enhanced experts should enable interesting gains in productivity across society.