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June 15, 2010 > Local student competes in International Math and Physics Olympiad

Local student competes in International Math and Physics Olympiad

Submitted By Jerry Ting
Photos By Jerry Ting

While other children were playing kickball in sixth grade, Mission San Jose High School Junior Bowei Liu was already taking the AMC, an advanced math exam that tests analytical thinking and problem solving. Today, 16 year-old Liu is revered as one of the nation's top young mathematicians/physicists and has been offered admission to Princeton University for the 2010-2011 academic school year.

Liu brought home a gold medal at last year's international Physics Olympiad while participating in the U.S. Physics traveling team. He competed against participants from over 80 different countries in a competition held in Mexico to earn his gold medal; taking two five hour exams consisting of three complex problems.

This year, Liu will return to the Physics Olympiad training camp, an intensive preparatory program that includes competition with other physicists in a series of exams. Physics team trials draw over 5,000 applicants; only 20 qualify for the training camp. The nation's top five young physicists are chosen to participate on the traveling team. Liu, however, has decided not to contend for a position on the traveling team this year due to the time commitment and competing interests.

He has, however, focused on another camp and traveling team: the Mathematics Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP). MOSP is analogous to the Physics Olympiad, providing the brightest minds with resources from professors, Nobel Prize winners like John Mather and instructional materials not available elsewhere. Liu has already qualified for MOSP. Over a period of 20 days, the camp includes an instructional period from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and daily testing. When asked why he voluntarily attends these programs, Liu simply shrugs and comments, "Because it's fun."

To prepare for both the physics and mathematics camp, Liu spends his free time working on practice problems. He describes the math as "different, stuff from [what you learn in] high school but more problem-solving oriented. You have to know algebra, geometry, number theory, and combinatorics-the study of finite or countable discrete structures." Liu was a student in AP Physics at Mission San Jose High last year, taught by teacher Peter Geshke, who also nominated Liu for the Physics Olympiad team.

Liu departed for a national math competition on June 3. When he returns from this team match tournament, Liu looks forward to a summer of math and physics Olympiads. "I'm excited because the camps are intense, and I get to hang out with other intense people," adds Liu.

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