Torrey Pines student follows up International Mathematical Olympiad with STS scholar recognition

Math teacher Abby Brown with Derek Liu
Torrey Pines math teacher Abby Brown with Derek Liu
(Derek Liu)

Torrey Pines High School senior Derek Liu was named a Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar, one of two recent academic accomplishments he’s had over the last year.

“It’s an honor to have this recognition,” said Derek, who lives in Carmel Valley.

He was one of two San Dieguito Union High School District students to be named an STS Scholar, along with Canyon Crest Academy senior Hari Hemanth Krishnamurthy. They were among the 300 students who were selected from a pool of nearly 2,000 applicants from high schools across the country.

Forty of those 300 will be selected on Jan. 24 to compete for about $1.8 million in awards in a competition to be held this March 9-15.

According to a San Dieguito Union High School District announcement, alumni of the program have gone on to earn 13 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, six Breakthrough Prizes, 22 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and two Fields Medals.

Regeneron STS followed an appearance by Derek last summer in the two-day International Mathematical Olympiad in Oslo, Norway, where he earned a gold medal score. But it all began when Derek was a child and had “a natural affinity for math.”

“When I was 2 years old, walking through the kids aisles at stores, I’d be more interested in the numbers on the price tag of toys than on the toys themselves,” he said.

The Olympiad, which was four and a half hours each day with three problems each day, gave participants proof problems that required them to justify the answers.

“Making the team has been my goal for at least the past decade,” Derek said.

Since launching in Romania with seven countries in 1959, the International Mathematical Olympiad has grown to include participants from more than 100 countries. It’s held in a different country every year.

“After you’ve been chasing something for an entire decade and you finally achieve it is just a wonderful feeling to have,” Derek said. “You have a sense of accomplishment that really can’t be paralleled.”

Derek said he got a lot of support from his teachers and peers, particularly the San Diego Math Circle. He plans to major in math in college and focus more on mathematical research, although he’s not sure where he’s going yet. After that, he wants to pursue a Ph.D., eventually publishing his own papers.

“It would be wonderful to discover something for myself,” Derek said.