Gunn High School senior Andrew Liu took a top prize over the weekend in regional finals of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.
He will compete next month in national finals in Washington D.C., presenting a bioinformatics project that uses computer data analysis to improve understanding of organ rejection.
Liu competed Friday and Saturday at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena along with other regional finalists from California and Oregon -- including Palo Alto High School senior Scott Zhuge.
"Mr. Liu developed a more efficient way to extract meaning from the flood of modern genomic data and went on to test it on the problem of acute organ rejection," said Brian Williams, a Caltech senior scientist and a judge in the Siemens contest.
"We were impressed by how deeply Mr. Liu immersed himself in the research," Williams said.
"With further testing, his technique could have a huge influence on both basic and clinical research."
Liu used "pathway analysis" to make it easier to draw conclusions from a large volume of data.
"We analyze the disease at a pathway and network level, and the network means we're integrating different pathways and studying them all together," Liu said in an interview prior to the regional finals, which were held at Caltech.
"A lot of the project is just thinking about how to implement that -- that's a lot of programming and a lot of mathematics as well.
"Applying computer science to biology, the study of disease, is very rewarding because it can have direct beneficial impact to society. Even now, we're testing our explanation in the wet lab -- they're going to see if it's actually the right model."
Liu worked on the project with a Stanford University mentor, postdoctoral researcher Purvesh Khatri.
In addition to his computer science research, Liu, fluent in Mandarin, is president of Gunn's speech and debate club and co-editor of The Chariot, Gunn's cultural and political magazine. He's also a two-time winner of the Intel Excellence in Computer Science award at the USA Math Olympiad.
In Washington next month, Liu will compete against winners in five other regional competitions -- in both "individual" and "team" categories -- for $100,000 in grand prize money.
Liu's regional win was in the "individual" category. Regional winners in the "team" category were Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez of Oregon Episcopal School in Portland.
Krishnan and Fernandez's project, also in computer science, was called "The Recognition of Emotion in Human Speech."
Liu, Krishnan and Fernandez each won $3,000. The four runner-up regional finalists in both the individual and team categories each received $1,000 scholarships.
The Siemens Foundation said 2,033 students registered to enter the science competition this year for a record number of 1,372 project submitted in both individual and team categories. Of 312 semi-finalists, 94 have been named regional finalists, representing 36 states.