MIT-bound LHS senior has knack for research

Lawrence,KS (05-16-2004)

From Lawrence-Journal World
By Terry Rombeck

Ying Niu wasn't always a numbers whiz.

"I actually hated math growing up," she said. "Mom would force me to sit down and do problems before I played with the other kids."

Now, she's thankful for that upbringing.

The Lawrence High School senior -- who is graduating this afternoon with her class -- has used a year of college-level science research to help secure a healthy scholarship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the fall.

She has been working for a Kansas University project called PRISM, for Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements, that is working to measure the thickness of polar ice caps. The results will help scientists understand the effects of global warming.

Niu's duty has been to process data collected by a research team last summer in Greenland. Another team from Denmark is using the data to analyze ice thickness in a particular region of Greenland.

"For a high school student, it's pretty complicated," said David Braaten, an associate professor of geography on the PRISM team. "She's had the math, and she understands some of what's going on."

Braaten said having high school students involved was an important part of the PRISM project. Niu worked full-time on the project last summer and three hours a week during the school year.

"It's worked out quite well," Braaten said. "She's a good, independent worker. She'll go quite awhile without having to come and get feedback."

Niu was born in China, where she lived until age 6, when her parents moved to Germany so her father, Fenghui Niu, could pursue a Ph.D.

When Niu was 10, her father accepted a position as a research assistant at KU's Higuchi Biosciences Center, where he still works.

Niu's mother, Wei Zhou, is a former math teacher.

Niu can speak Chinese, German and English. She was involved in the LHS German Club and Key Club and has volunteered at the Roger Hill Volunteer Center office.

She will keep working this summer with the PRISM project, then it'll be off to Boston this fall.

There, she'll start a five-year program to receive her bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science or electrical engineering.

She said she thought her experience growing up in three different countries would make her move to Boston easier.

"I didn't stay in one place my whole life," she said. "I'll be able to adjust myself better. I don't think I'll be that homesick."

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