Palo Alto High prize-winner hooked on the 'elegance' of mathematics | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto High prize-winner hooked on the 'elegance' of mathematics

Senior Lynnelle Ye sweeps contests with her game theory project

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."

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 31, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Great job, Lynnelle. Best wishes for your bright future.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Please, Miss Ye, don't overlook a career in industry. Academia will let you drift on your laurels, as Einstein and Ehrlich demonstrated. In industry it is a continuing challenge, and the accolades are tangible. Someone has to stay ahead of the Crays.

Like this comment
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

"She was probably teaching me basic algebra around first- or second-grade"

Totally right on! Good for you, girl. Take your head start and keep running with it. I'll watch for your name on the Fields Medal roster.

Like this comment
Posted by AFan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Awesome Lynelle! The Palo Alto community is proud of you.

1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2010 at 5:12 pm

"That's really important. It would be really unfortunate if we tried to solve the problem of undue stress by taking away opportunity."

Well said. I hope the administration is listening to you. I went to one of those terrible high schools where they had taken away opportunities as an inappropriate response to "stress" -- let me tell you, lack of opportunity, poor education, and boredom in school are stressful, too, especially for motivated students like Ms. Ye.

Like this comment
Posted by Jorge
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 31, 2010 at 7:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

3 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2010 at 8:36 pm


I just want to point out that virtually all of your comments are either ludicrous or unequivocally false.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] The reason that Lynnelle got to work with MIT graduates is because she qualified for the Research Science Institute (as the article points out). If you did not know, RSI is a summer program which selects 50 of the brightest high school students in the nation to do research at MIT with graduate students. Lynnelle is a an extremely "smart" person (regardless of how you define the word)and is truly passionate about mathematics. She isn't the "Typical asian" (as you stereotypically point out) who simply gets good grades because she studies hard. She loves mathematics and has devoted her life to studying it.
Unlike many other students who simply take classes to inflate their GPAs, Lynnelle is taking only five classes this year so she can devote her time to subjects that truly matter to her.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

You also point out that this is the "Typical Palo Altan news article". I have to disagree with you once more. The Palo Alto Online reports very little about math and science compared to sports and art. The reason the Palo Alto Online is profiling Lynnelle is because she is an exceptional student that Palo Alto (and even the entire country) rarely see. Not only did she place well at Siemens, but she also was second at Siemens: a feat that is rarely accomplished. She was also the highest scorer in the United States at the Asian Pacific Math Olympiad, qualified for MOSP three years in a row, attended RSI, got perfect SATs, placed second at the Math Prize for Girls competition, is taking advanced math at Stanford, was among the highest female AMC scores in the country, etc....
No one else, in the entire country, this past year, has been this accomplished in the field of mathematics. It is therefore not surprising that people are congratulating her.

Last but not least, I must disagree with your last comment.
"Prime example of whats wrong with Palo Alto. If you're not Lynelle, you feel bad about yourself.:
I honestly do not see how her success is an example of what is wrong with Palo Alto. At Palo Alto High Schoool, people do not feel bad if they are not Lynnelle. There people who are exceptional at science, break national records in track and swimming, publish books, place first at State Debate Tournaments, appear on TV shows for exceptional musical compositions, have played with the New York Philharmonic, etc... People are not pressured to be just like Lynnelle. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Paly Student

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

Fantastic job, Lynnelle!

Like this comment
Posted by Mather
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2010 at 7:50 am

Good for her. I hope that her hard work and dedication to her passion inspires other students to do the same. It's so tempting to take the easy route when you are young - to let your education fall behind other things that seem "more fun" and "less stressful." But in this world, and especially in this economy, you either work your butt off to gain the skills needed to become a valuable asset to an employer, or you end up working for the people that are. Lynelle has more control over her destiny now and I applaud her!

1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

Congrats, Ms. Ye!! You are a true inspiration for Palo Alto kids and beyond. Keep up the good work and follow your dream!

Like this comment
Posted by CP resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Fantastic Achievements. We are proud of you. Follow your dream and all the best!

Like this comment
Posted by Grace
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Congrats Lynelle! You're a brilliant and kind person.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Math is power, if only because if you suffer from math anxiety, you are weaker. Great to see a kid who can excel in academics and maintain a balanced perspective as well. Live your passions! Congrats.
Steve C.

Like this comment
Posted by Namar
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Congrats Lynnelle! I'll see you around sometime, maybe in college visits. Can you guess who this is?

Like this comment
Posted by troyfan
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Lynnelle, if i would marry someone, it would be youuuuu! This is superb that you won both Intel and Siemens. Very much congratulations on you superb achievements, and you are going to be a Field's Medal winner in future and I am sure about that. Good Job gogogogogogog girl

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm

"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.'"

Whoa... Great job at succeeding at this! Also, great work in math!

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

French Laundry, Chez TJ alum to give new life to Prolific Oven space in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 8,051 views

Premarital and Couples: Thankful / Grateful / Appreciation
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,610 views

What Local Teens are Saying
By Sherry Listgarten | 19 comments | 2,604 views

Plastic vegie bag ban: Pragmatic? -- or simply politically correct?
By Diana Diamond | 35 comments | 1,983 views

Edible Education – Free Course - UC Berkeley Online
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,049 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 26 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $7 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.