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The Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. — AAPT.ORG

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Licheng Zhu

Lincolnshire, IL

Adlai Stevenson High School

Grade: Senior


reading, juggling, League, curating my Spotify playlists, Reddit/Tumblr/Netflix, violin/piano, frisbee, good food


Math Team, Physics Club, Science Olympiad, Economics Club, Orchestra, Model UN


USAPhO Semifinalist (2013), USAPhO Physics Team (2014), AAPT Physics Bowl 1st Place Division 2 Illinois Region, Fermilab intern (2013-2014), Moody's Mega Math Challenge Honorable Mention (2014), National Merit Finalist (2014), Illinois Economics Challenge Finalist (2013)


Back when I was a freshman, I wanted to be a lawyer. Pursuing STEM was far from my mind. I was only merely "decent" at math.

But I soon found I had a budding interest in physics, after taking Physics B with Mrs. Edstrom as a sophomore. That year, a couple friends and I took the first F=ma test ever administered at Stevenson. None of us did very well at all, but it opened a whole new world to me. There are hard problems to be solved out there, and they have answers. Griffiths, Taylor, and Irodov provided me my first forays into the beauty of physics.

I loved it enough to take the unconventional path of taking C the next year instead of Biology. It was hard finding time for physics in the midst of junior year, but I was motivated by the challenge the semis presented. So, I read through all of Halliday/Resnick (10/10, would recommend), as well as watching all of Walter Lewin's lectures. At 2x speed, you'd be surprised to find how much you can understand.

I went from a prospective lawyer to a budding physicist in 3.5 years, becoming a more interesting person along the way. Physics has given me a deep love for finding out how things work. It has made me a skeptic and a doubter, traits invaluable to a scientist. By cultivating an innate curiosity, I've learned that anything can be interesting if you go deep enough.

There are people in my life without whom I would not have been here. Mrs. Edstrom, thank you for mentoring my independent study. I am inspired and will remain forever changed by those years in your classes. Dr. Li, thank you for your invaluable advice. The rest of my teachers, thank you. Finally, my friends and family - thank you all.

I've spent my entire life here in Chicago. 15 years of bitter cold and sweltering heat has been enough for me. Thankfully, this fall I'm taking my talents to wonderfully temperate Southern California, attending Caltech.

Most of all, I'm especially honored by this opportunity, and I'm gushing at the prospect of meeting everyone very soon.

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