"It brought the logic of math into the sciences," said Pan, who has loved math since childhood.
Wednesday (Jan. 25), Pan was named one of 40 national finalists in the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search.
He will present his bioinformatics project on proteins and vaccines in Washington, D.C., in March, competing for up to $100,000 in individual prize money.
Pan was one of three Bay Area high school seniors named finalists Wednesday. The other two were Alissa Zhang of Saratoga High School and Saurabh Sharan of Bellarmine College Prep.
Along with Pan, Gunn senior Jean Wang was among the 300 semi-finalists in this year's contest, which drew 1,850 initial entries from high school seniors in 44 states.
Last year, a Bay Area student was the first-place finisher in the Intel competition, reaping the $100,000 prize. It was Evan Michael O'Dorney of Danville, then a senior at Venture School, an "independent study school" that is part of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. O'Dorney's project was in mathematics.
Along with the 39 other Intel finalists in Washington next month, Pan, "who's a rock star, will be treated like he's already a Nobel Prize winner," Intel representative Julie Dunkle said in a presentation during teacher Bill Dunbar's robotics class Wednesday.
Finalists will present their projects to a series of judging panels, meet members of Congress and visit the White House, Dunkle said. Winners will be announced at a black-tie event on the final evening.
Pan said a possible application of his bioinformatics and genomics project would be to "cut down on the cost of (vaccine) production, speed it up and make a vaccine for pretty much any virus there is out there."
He began the work last summer during a seven-week program at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York. After the program ended, he said, he "kept on persisting, kept on coding," until he hit upon his model.
Born in China, Pan came to the United States as a toddler, first to Hawaii, and later to California. He attended middle school at Egan Middle School in Los Altos before moving to Palo Alto for high school at Gunn.