MVHS alumnus wins gold at International Chemistry Olympiad

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Since his junior year at MVHS, 2017 alumnus Steven Liu has been working towards competing in the International Chemistry Olympiad. His hard work paid off this July when Liu and his teammates won gold representing the U.S. in Thailand.

The Chemistry Olympiad is a multi-stage competition, first beginning at the school level, then moving on to the county level and finally reaching the national level. After qualifying in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, Liu was among the top 20 high school chemistry students in the nation. He then spent two weeks at a study camp with the rest of the top-scorers, from which he was among the four students chosen to represent the US at the international level.

 

2017 MVHS alumnus Steven Liu poses with Brendan Yap, one of his team members in the Olympiad. The 49th International Science Olympiad was held in Thailand, with competitors from 76 countries attending. Photo used with the permission of Steven Liu.

2017 alumnus Steven Liu poses with Brendan Yap, one of his team members in the Olympiad. The 49th International Science Olympiad was held in Thailand, with competitors from 76 countries attending. Photo used with the permission of Steven Liu.

“It was a great experience,” Liu said. “The competition itself was kind of stressful, but it was really good to meet teams from other countries and listen to how their experiences with chemistry went and just like how life is for them back in their countries.”

 

Although Liu was first introduced to chemistry in eighth grade, he became serious about it in his sophomore year of high school.

“I didn’t really think much of it [at first],” he said. “ [But] there was another [MVHS] alumni in 2015, David Wang, who also won international, and that kind of inspired me.”

David Wang, who graduated from MVHS in 2015, attended the International Chemistry Olympiad in 2015, and placed seventh overall out of 176 students. Wang first met Liu at the Cupertino Library, when Liu approached him and expressed his interest in the Olympiad. Over the next two years they kept in touch online.

“I am so humbled that [Liu] has found me an inspiration [and]role model through the Chemistry Olympiad process,” Wang wrote in a message to El Estoque. “[Liu] has demonstrated such strong work ethic and self-motivation over the two plus years I’ve known him that I don’t feel that I deserve much credit for his success— his accomplishments truly reflect his hard work.”

Chemistry teacher Kavita Gupta, who taught Liu’s AP Chemistry class when he was a junior, said that his interest in the Chemistry Olympiad began in his sophomore year. He came to her with Wang, to discuss how to work towards the Olympiad.

“I remember all my students, but definitely [Liu] is the one to remember,” Gupta said. “He definitely had an aptitude [in chemistry].”

Gupta remembers that Liu did very well as a junior, being one of the two students who were selected from MVHS to compete at the county level of the olympiad. He then came back to her class in his senior year as a teacher’s assistant.

“You would always see him around with an organic [chemistry]textbook, which is way beyond what we teach here,” Gupta said. “But he had it in him to learn more and to excel at [the]Chemistry Olympiad.”

Liu says that the biggest way MVHS affected his passion for chemistry and helped him prepare for the Olympiad was Gupta.

“It was great having [Gupta] mentor me and help me with everything along the way,” Liu said. “She kind of kept me going at times that were hard.”

Liu will be joining Wang at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall, and says he will probably be studying a mix of chemistry and computer science. 

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Gauri is currently a junior at MVHS and a news editor on staff.