Hong Kong student to pursue love of maths at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • After winning second place in the grand finale of the ST Yau High School Science Award, Astrid Luo will head to the world-renowned university in the US
  • She was encouraged by Professor Yau Shing-tung, the founder of the awards and the first Chinese winner of the prestigious Fields Medal
Yanni Chow |

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Professor Yau Shing-tung, founder of the ST Yau High School Science Award (Asia); Astrid Luo On-ki, and Honorary Secretary of Hong Kong Academy of Sciences Professor Henry Wong Nai-ching pose together. Photo: Hong Kong Academy of Sciences

Astrid Luo On-ki has been fascinated by mathematics ever since she began secondary school. Now she will pursue her passion for the subject at a world-renowned university this autumn.

“I’ve attended other classes as well but … I think mathematics is the one,” said the 18-year-old student, a graduate of Pui Ching Middle School.

When she was in Form Four, her teacher encouraged her to join the ST Yau High School Science Award (Asia), a research-based competition that aimed to nurture students’ passion for the sciences.

Astrid won an Honorary Mention in the Economics and Financial Modelling category that year.

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The next year, she challenged herself and entered the competition again, this time in the Mathematics category.

She won gold in the regional contest, beating teams from all over Asia and winning a spot in the grand finale, where she competed against the winners from all the other categories.

A total of 16 teams or individuals took part in the grand finale – she won second place.

“The competition proved my love for mathematics,” she said.

Astrid said she’s been interested in maths since she began secondary school, and is excited to pursue the subject as a field of study. Photo: Hong Kong Academy of Sciences

Her talent didn’t go unnoticed by Professor Yau Shing-tung, the founder of the awards. The mathematician sent her to the Research Science Institute (RSI), a summer programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Although the programme had been moved online due to Covid, she was still able to connect and learn from some of the world’s best academics, doing research in maths together in the summer before she became a Form Six student.

The experience prompted her to rethink her path after secondary school.

“Before this programme, I never thought about studying in the US. But after getting to know a lot of friends and professors there, I began to consider the possibility,” Astrid said.

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Armed with a letter of recommendation from Yau, she applied to MIT, and got the call last December that she was admitted to the university.

“I was very happy when I got the news because I know their admission rate is very low. I didn’t think I could make it into MIT.”

Since it will be her first time in the US, she’s excited to explore the country, in addition to other fields of study.

“MIT doesn’t require us to choose a major in our first year. Although I’m interested in maths, I might take the chance to learn about other subjects,” she said.

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Yau, the first Chinese winner of the prestigious Fields Medal, awarded to young people who show outstanding contributions in maths, founded the ST Yau High School Science Award with the belief that talent must be discovered and nurtured from a young age.

He hoped to see more students follow in Astrid’s footsteps and achieve great things. But he said the government had to direct more resources into creating a better environment for young people.

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“If you invest well, more talent will be willing to come to Hong Kong,” said the maths and physics professor at Harvard University.

The ST Yau High School Science Award (Asia) 2022 is now open for applications, with the deadline being June 30.

The contest is co-organised by The Hong Kong Academy of Sciences, Yau Mathematical Science Centre of Tsinghua University and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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