It has been a season of rewards for Palo Alto High School senior Lynnelle Ye.
Ye's passion for the "elegance" of mathematics -- discovered in childhood and nurtured by her grandmother, her parents and various Palo Alto teachers -- has earned her top rankings this year in two of the nation's most rigorous academic competitions. She took fourth in the nation in the Intel Science Talent Search, and second in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.
While her peers sweat out college admissions and indulge in some hard-won "senioritis," Ye has been shuttling to New York and Washington to present her project on game theory, chat with Nobel laureates and collect $90,000 in prize money.
Between trips -- she heads back to Washington again April 29 to compete as part of Paly's five-member Science Bowl team -- the friendly, soft-spoken Ye is holding down a schedule that includes Paly AP classes in English, Spanish literature, chemistry and economics as well as advanced mathematics at Stanford University.
This week she was still awaiting word from several colleges, placing her future in the "undecided" column.
Ye began her particular focus on math as a sixth-grader at Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School when she "accidentally" got onto the school math team.
"I showed up and took a test and they were, like, 'OK, you're on the team,'" she said in an interview this week.
"After that I did math contests more and more often, and each year I got more and more into it."
Her winning project for both Intel and Siemens was mathematically proving some new facts about strategies for a game called Graph Chomp, in which two players take turns eliminating nodes, or edges, from a graph. The winner is the one who removes the graph's last node.
She developed her strategy while attending the six-week Research Science Institute program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last summer with help from a mentor, MIT graduate student Tirasan Khandhawit.
Ye discovered a personal fascination for game theory during a summer math camp when she was in eighth-grade.
"I think math is really enjoyable and really fun," she said. "A lot of people don't necessarily get a sense of that from the classes they take at school.
"But if you look at the more creative problems, you see it's just really clever and fun and elegant."
Ye began taking math at Stanford her junior year, after completing Paly's BC Calculus class as a sophomore.
Two weeks ago she finished Stanford's course in Analytical Number Theory and this week was to begin "Lebesgue Integration and Fournier Analysis."
"I don't have any idea what it's about, but it's sort of the natural next step to take," she said.
She credits many mentors along the way, including MIT's Khandhawit, former JLS math teacher Libby Beddoes and Paly math teachers Suzanne Antink and Radu Toma.
At this point, Ye expects to major in math in college and pursue an academic career.
"I really like the idea of research and really enjoy teaching. Right now I kind of want to go into academia because it seems like a place I could combine them. But obviously I don't know anything with all that much certainty."
Ye's teaching experience, so far, has been as a coach for JLS's MathCounts Club, preparing weekly lessons for Paly's math club and tutoring fellow students through Paly's Academic Resource Center.
She also described herself as an avid reader and a Harry Potter fan.
As a student at Hoover Elementary School Ye tried music, dance and other activities, but math was always an interest. Her grandmother, a high school teacher in China who now lives with the Ye family in Palo Alto, encouraged her from an early age.
"My grandmother taught chemistry, but she knows a lot of math. When I was 5 or 6, she just accelerated me. She was probably teaching me basic algebra around first- or second-grade," Ye said.
"My family has been very supportive of me. I think they would have supported whatever I was doing, but this just turned out to be the path I felt best with.
"My dad works in computer technology and my mom used to do that also, although she was trained as a biologist. So they're both very science-y people."
Jun Ye and Caren Wang met as graduate students at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, where Lynnelle was born. The family moved to Palo Alto when Lynnelle was 10 months old.
Ye said she speaks Mandarin with her father and Shanghainese with her mother.
She has a 7-year-old brother, Brion, who attends Challenger School.
"I don't get much time to play with him, but he's really cute and really awesome," she said.
"He's very competitive with me. Just recently he's been insisting that I put all my trophies on the floor in front of the fireplace instead of on the mantel because the mantel has to be saved for when he has trophies."
In terms of balancing her math passions with her friendships and other interests, Ye said, "I think I've managed to balance my life in a way I feel comfortable with.
"I stress myself out, but we have to remember that the reason Paly and Gunn are considered such 'stressful' schools is because there is so much opportunity and variety and choice, and a chance for you to push yourself as far as you possibly can.
"That's really important. It would be really unfortunate if we tried to solve the problem of undue stress by taking away opportunity."