Gunn senior a finalist in Intel science competition

Andrew Liu will have shot at $100,000 prize for bioinformatics research

Gunn High School senior Andrew Liu today (Jan. 26) was named as one of 40 nationwide finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search.

Liu will present his bioinformatics project -- which uses computer data analysis to improve understanding of human organ rejection -- to judges in Washington, D.C., next month for a crack at the top Siemens prize of $100,000.

Last month, Liu was honored for the same project, placing fifth out of six finalists in the Washington, D.C., nationals of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

"Applying computer science to biology, the study of disease, is very rewarding because it can have direct beneficial impact to society," Liu said in an earlier interview.

 Liu worked on the bioinformatics project with a mentor, Stanford University postdoctoral researcher Purvesh Khatri.

In addition to his computer-science research Liu, fluent in Mandarin and Spanish, 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.

Liu said the most influential person in his scientific pursuits has been his father, Yajun Liu.

"My dad inspired me to pursue science as a passion," he said in his Intel application. 

"My dad brings me technical guidance and emotional calm to help me appreciate that science needs persistence."

More than 1,700 high school seniors entered this year's Intel competition.

 The nation's 300 semi-finalists, named earlier this month, included three other students from Gunn: Youyang Gu, Audrey Ho, and Brian Zhang.

The Harker School in San Jose had a record-breaking seven semi-finalists and today became the only school in the nation to have more than one finalist: Rohan Mahajan and Nikhil Parthasarathy.

Last year, Palo Alto had one semi-finalist in the Intel contest -- Lynnelle Ye of Palo Alto High School.

Ye advanced to the Intel finals and ultimately placed fourth in the nation with her game-theory project, mathematically proving some new facts about strategies for the game Graph Chomp.

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Like this comment
Posted by good job
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

Good job, Andrew. Keep it up.

Like this comment
Posted by Chinese mom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I am happy for you, Andrew.
Now I think Chinese dads are superior.

Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm


"We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Superbowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair."

(Barack Obama, last night).

Like this comment
Posted by Claude Ezran
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I was going to post the exact same quote from last night's State of the Union address. We just had a parade for our fantastic football and volleyball State champions from Paly. That begs the question: when are we going to have a parade, or at least a City celebration, for our science competition finalists, National Merit Scholars, and other high achievers in our schools? They are as much deserving of public recognition!

Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

"when are we going to have a parade, or at least a City celebration, for our science competition finalists, National Merit Scholars, and other high achievers in our schools?"

Probably when we start celebrating tiger moms (and dads).

There won't be a parade, anytime soon, but there could be a City recognition, at a council meeting, for example. If it ever happens, the tigers should be equally recognized. If, per chance, it is a lone-wolf achievement, then wolves should be equally recognized.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm


No, I'm not making Amy Chua's mistake. I'm referring quite spefically to the engineering training in that country--not ethnicity. There's a strong preference for American-trained engineers. The U.S. has the lion's share of the best universities in the world.


Really? Name an elementary-school science competition with comparable status and rewards to the Intel and Westinghouse science competitions.

And I do get the paradigm--because I know a fair number kids just out of college (such as the two I told you about.)

You, on the other hand, are just throwing out vague ideas without back-up--organic chemistry AND engineering equations? In what job is that? No one gives a damn about organic chemistry when they interview you at Google. And you'll find the gift truly valued in medicine is the one for diagnosis. (No, you don't get it through memorization.)

But, more to the point, an engineering degree is great out of the starting gate, but it tends to plateau. You end up at the same rate of pay as an air-traffic controller--a job that doesn't require a degree. After 20 years, the average is a little more than $100K.

Also, with engineering, there's a basic job security issue. Plenty of middle-aged engineers have a hell of a time finding a job at the same rate of pay when they get laid off.

Medicine looks great, but a huge chunk of those paychecks goes to pay for medical school.

Got a mathematical gift? Your long-term job prospects look better if you become an actuary than an engineer.

Terrific student? Getting into a top law school and getting hired by one of the big firms pays off once you make partner.

Your problem, Aaron, is that you want to blame the wrong people for a situation that is far more complex than "whiny kids". The most financially rewarding fields are not necessarily the ones that we need the most.

Unlike you, I actually went to schools with a lot of Asian-American kids. Yes, they did, as a group, get good grades. But there was really nothing very intimidating about them--in part because the whole thing was *so* predictable. The Tiger Mom technique--though Chua's uniquely narcissistic--doesn't tend to create the passion for a subject that you see in the very best students. Occasionally what you'll get is the kid who has an affinity for a subject so he or she is happy to put a lot of hours into it.

Then you just hope the Tiger Momming doesn't destroy it. After all, that's what Amy Chua did in the case of her second daughter.

Gee, that's right, you haven't actually READ the book. Kind of how you didn't actually KNOW anything about how science is taught at Ohlone. (That it had, for instance, a science teacher.)

Or, for that matter, that it follows district curriculum.

Look forward to hearing about the elementary-school equivalent of the Westinghouse.

Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm


Try to take a deep breath. The paradigm has changed. We are now back to basics. Don't worry, in 20-30 years, once we have, again, achieved a prosperous society by employing basic approaches, you will probably have your way, again.

From your missive, the most important thing that you failed to mention was a congratulation for this great achievement by this Gunn student (and his parents). You also, conveniently, ignored Barack Obama's shout out to the science fair winners.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue K.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Congratulations, Andrew. I hope you have a wonderful experience in Washington.

I was a Westinghouse (now Intel) Science Talent Search finalist in the early 70s. Traveling to Washington DC to meet real scientists for the first time and other students passionate about research was a blast, and very inspiring. Back in my HS in New York, we had a Westinghouse club with over 50 members. The students had varied interests and their projects spanned many fields of science; my project was about the relationship between academic achievement and creativity. Our projects tended to be low tech, parents generally were not involved, and we did not travel to universities to do our research. Our HS teachers served as mentors. What we shared was a passion for exploration and discovery. Times have changed, but what makes scientific research so compelling has not. Like art, science is a creative pursuit. We don't need parades for winners, but our schools and our community as a whole should inspire, encourage and celebrate creativity in its myriad forms in all students.

On a different note: I wish we could leave "Amy Chua" out of this discussion. The Weekly article is about a local student who won an award; why is his ethnicity a topic (or subtext) for our discussion?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm

OP - My child goes to Ohlone. They do have science, and at fifth grade, they can recite more names of human bones and body parts than you'll learn as a college biology major. Sounds pretty impressive? Well, the only problem is that they seem to have gained all this qualitative knowledge at the expense of quantitative skills, i.e., maths, which require practice on a daily basis. You won't be surprised to find a lot of 4th and even 5th graders who don't know their multiplication facts cold. Which teacher dares to ask the students to memorize the multiplication table? That would be condemned as "rote memorization." The lack of quantitative skills is probably not just a problem at Ohlone, but Ohlone's no-homework policy certainly doesn't help.

The lack of financial rewards is not the only thing that discourages our young generations from pursuing science and engineering. A greater impediment is the lack of a solid foundation in maths and science, particularly maths. It'll be too late to catch by the time you reach college or grad school.

A kid who's never memorized any equation in trigonometry, for example, will have a hard time learning calculus, let alone more advanced classes in physics and engineering. One of my best friends from college was such a kid. A very bright student, she initially chose to major in physics and aspired go to MIT for a Ph.D. in physics. Well, she ended up going to med school instead and became a psychiatrist eventually. Nothing wrong with that. But I think in her case, it was the lack of a foundation, rather than aspiration and interest, that turned her away from science.

I think our President understands the problem, and hopefully he can do something to move the nation in the right diretion in terms of science eduction.

Like this comment
Posted by Scared of OhlonePar
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

Congratulations, Andrew.

Please don't take the negative rants on this forum to heart. We are truly proud of the hard work you put into this competition and wish you the best of luck!


I am Asian-America and I have a child who attends Ohlone, as well. My child is in the mainstream path (non-Mandarin). I have loosely followed your posts (since the Mandarin immersion debate) and have always wondered who you were and what you thought about "us Asians" at Ohlone. Do I actually know you, but not know what you think of me? Do you let your child play with my child?

Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2011 at 6:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Glad Grandma
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

I can't tell you, Andrew, how thrilled this household was, first seeing you do your thing and getting to WA DC as a semi-finalist, and now, bless your heart, becoming an actual finalist! Two of our sons graduated from Gunn a few years ago. It was a good school then, and is apparently still a good school However, YOU have done the work needed to get to where you are...just so happy for you, and wish you well. Take care of yourself! Be well!

Like this comment
Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

Can we please leave this thread to the subject of this talented and hard-working young student, Andrew Liu, who deserves kudos for his achievement? Let's not detract from that by digressing to individual hot topics and diatribes. Please start your own thread.

Andrew, I don't know you, but I celebrate your acheivement. It is YOURS. Not your mother's or father's, not your school's. While you have had, I am sure, love and support and good teachers on the way (which, no doubt, you appreciate)...YOU did the work.

Well done. Congratulations.

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

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