Gunn senior wins $20K in science competition

Andrew Liu's project uses computer analysis to shed light on organ rejection

A Gunn High School student won $20,000 over the weekend (Dec. 3-5), placing fifth out of six finalists in the Washington, D.C. nationals of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

Senior Andrew Liu was honored for a bioinformatics project that uses computer data analysis to improve the understanding of organ rejection. The contest drew initial entries from more than 2,000 students from across the United States.

The top prize of $100,000 went to Benjamin Clark, a 15-year-old senior from Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Penn., for research that sheds new light on how stars are born. The top prize of $100,000 for teams went to Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez, juniors at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, Ore., for developing a computer algorithm to detect emotion in the human voice.

Six individuals and six teams competed in the national finals over the weekend after winning one of six regional competitions in November. They presented their research to a panel of judges comprised of scientists and engineers headed by Thomas D. Jones, a scientist, author, pilot and former NASA astronaut.

The $100,000 prizewinners will ring the "closing bell" at the New York Stock Exchange in January.

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," Siemens judge Brian Williams, senior scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said in describing the Gunn student's project.

"With further testing, his technique could have a huge influence on both basic and clinical research."

In an interview prior to the regional finals held at Caltech in November, Liu said, "Applying computer science to biology, the study of disease, is very rewarding because it can have direct beneficial impact to society."

Liu worked on the project with a mentor, Stanford University 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, the school'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.

His $20,000 prize for the Siemens natonal finals comes atop a $3,000 prize he earned for winning the regional finals last month. Also advancing to the regional finals was Palo Alto High School senior Scott Zhuge, who worked with an astrophysics mentor at NASA Ames Research Center to measure the amount of neon, sulfur and hydrogen in the Orion Nebula.

Also competing as semifinalists in this year's Siemens contest were Gunn students Elliot Akama-Green, Brian Zhang, Helen Jiang and Audrey Ho.

The Siemens Foundation said 2,033 students registered to enter the science competition this year for a record number of 1,372 projects submitted in both individual and team categories.

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Like this comment
Posted by congratulations!
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:54 am

Congratulations Andrew! Fifth in the country is a fantastic performance.

Like this comment
Posted by Kathy
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm

That's fantastic. I'm a physician and this is exactly the kind of research we need in medicine to improve outcomes.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Congratulations Andrew! Very inspiring to have a top winner from our area. These are some fascinating and advanced projects for such young people to take on. We've come along way from the science fair projects of my day with the baking soda volcanoes and styrofoam solar systems. :-)

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