William Byrd High School graduate Richard Qiu will be attending Harvard University in the fall. He has been recognized for this exceptional accomplishment many times in recent weeks— at graduation, at senior awards assemblies, and at a School Board meeting in May.
However, it’s not his first accolade. During much of his school career, if there was a science or math competition, “Qiu” was the name called when the winners were announced.
When WBHS Principal Tammy Newcomb presented Qiu to the School Board, to his fellow students at awards ceremonies, and to the crowd at graduation, she explained what a singular honor he has received.
“Recognized annually by numerous publications and media sources, Harvard University continues to be ranked among the top colleges and universities in America and across the world,” said Newcomb. “Established in 1636, this private Ivy League university holds the place as America’s oldest institution of higher education. Harvard’s Class of 2022 represents the largest applicant pool in this institution’s history with a total of 42,749 applicants with only 1,962 receiving an offer of admission.
“This year one of our own WBHS seniors has the unique honor of joining Harvard’s Class of 2022,” she continued. “We are proud to recognize Richard for this unique honor of attending Harvard University in the fall.”
Newcomb shared during the School Board presentation that Erin Ashwell from the Woods Rogers firm who interviewed Qiu locally for Harvard, said, “I’m delighted that Richard was accepted and decided to attend. He stands out among all the students I’ve interviewed over the years.”
Newcomb also mentioned– in awe– that Qiu had earned a perfect score on his ACT exams– a rarity.
Qiu and his family moved to the Vinton area from near Toronto, Canada, when he was in third grade. He attended Bonsack Elementary, William Byrd Middle School, William Byrd High School and the prestigious Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology.
When asked what his family had done early on to spark his interest in science and in learning in general, Qiu says that he distinctly recalls “going all the time to the Ontario Science Center, a huge hands-on, kids-friendly science museum” when the family lived in Canada.
“We used to take trips to the library all the time, and I remember coming home with a massive pile of books every few weeks or so,” said Qiu.
It helps also that his father, Ping Qiu, is a chemist and his mother, Hong Liu, works for a biomedical devices company, so he was surrounded by the sciences as part of his normal daily life.
Qiu says he chose Harvard because he wanted to be in a large, urban environment (Harvard is just across the river from Boston) and surround himself with people “who are the best in the world at what they do.” He was also looking for a university with a robust four-year financial aid program.
He says he thinks Harvard chose him because of his background in science research with numerous research competitions under his belt in which he has done “pretty well.”
Beginning in May 2017 he has worked 10 hours a week as a research assistant at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute as the co-lead of a project investigating the role of diabetes in blood-brain barrier breakdown. He has been responsible for development of the blood-brain barrier computational model and for data management and statistical analysis. He has shared responsibilities for cellular model design, maintenance, and bio-assaying (determining the biological activity or potency of a substance by testing its effect on the growth of an organism) and has worked to prepare a manuscript for publication in the fall of 2018.
In the summer of 2017, Qiu served as a research intern at the NASA Langley Research Center— a member of the team investigating causes of mission-critical metal component failure. His responsibilities included operating the scanning electron microscope and obtaining electron micrographs. He developed MATLAB programs for automatic electron micrograph analysis and data/metadata visualization and assisted in reducing the error of electron post-processing software by three orders of magnitude. His contributions were presented at the 18th International Conference on the Textures of Materials; manuscripts are under review for publication this summer and fall.
His independent projects include “Applications of Multivariable Calculus, a Supplemental Classroom Resource,” “RVGS-AFM, An Open-Source Alternative for Atomic Force Microscopy Post-Processing and Analysis,” “A Novel Hybrid Hydrogel: Preparation, Characterization, and Applications” (Patent Pending), “A System to Sense and Maintain Environmental Carbon Dioxide Concentration,” and ‘The Effect of Infill on 3D Printed Material Tensile Strength.”
Academic honors and recognitions for Qiu include being named as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist in 2018, as a candidate for the Presidential Scholars Program 2018, as a two-time Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair Best-in-Category winner (2017 and 2018), as a semi-finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology in 2017 and a Virginia Summer Residential Governor’s Mentorship in Engineering in 2017.
He was a presenter for the American Chemical Society, Blue Ridge Chapter Undergraduate Research Showcase in 2017, a two-time National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Finalist in 2016 and 2017, a two-time Virginia Junior Science and Humanities Symposium winner (Gold in 2017, Grand Award 2016), took second place in the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair Category in 2016, and earned High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling, Meritorious Designation in 2015.
Not only is he brilliant and accomplished, Newcomb says Qiu “has truly left a lasting impact on members of our school community for his classroom dedication, personal achievements, and positive character, and being a giving, wonderful person.”
Qiu starts at Harvard at the end of August. As for his major, he is sure it will be something “sciency” but he hasn’t settled on a particular concentration as of yet. He says Harvard “has good programs all around.”
He is not a one-dimensional student by any means. Qiu has been in the band at WBMS and WBHS for all seven years of his secondary career. He volunteered to conduct a piece at this year’s Spring Concert. He plays alto saxophone. He is also a member of the Roanoke Youth Symphony where he plays violin.
Qiu says music is not a career focus but a way for him to “wind down;” he hopes to keep playing in college with amateur groups.
He has also been a member of the swim team for four years and on the Academic Team for three years.
Qiu credits his parents for their support in his accomplishments and achievements— they pushed him “a lot” early on, until he became self-motivated. He says he always had an internal curiosity about science.
He says that one of his instructors at William Byrd, Coach George George was a special influence as his history teacher early in his high school career. He says that Coach George advised him to focus not so much on getting A’s, but on “learning what he was trying to learn.” He is also especially grateful to his freshman physics teacher at the RVGS, Nick Merrill, and to science teacher Melissa Carr at William Byrd.
His mother said that the family is very excited for this opportunity for Qiu at Harvard, but like all parents, they have bittersweet emotions about him going so far away for college.