Few words, many successes for Naperville 13-year-old

  • Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville was the national champ of the "You Be The Chemist" challenge that took place in June in Philadelphia.

    Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville was the national champ of the "You Be The Chemist" challenge that took place in June in Philadelphia. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville helped with a volunteer project to refurbish computers for the needy this summer.

    Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville helped with a volunteer project to refurbish computers for the needy this summer. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/3/2016 8:03 AM

Trying to get 13-year-old Jevin Liu to talk about his many academic accomplishments is a nearly futile endeavor -- at least for someone he's just met. The Naperville boy, who skipped a grade to start as a freshman last month at Naperville North High School, is just not a big talker.

"A few words can definitely bring you a long way if they are chosen right," he says of his approach. "They can address your point better than thousands of words."

 

Jevin lets his successes speak for themselves. They include winning the national championship in this year's "You Be The Chemist" challenge, a title that came with a $10,000 scholarship.

Nearly 51,000 students nationwide participated in this year's challenge, with 39 finalists advancing to Philadelphia in June to grapple with material comparable to an introductory- or moderate-level high school chemistry course, said Avery Keese, manager of outreach and events for the Chemical Educational Foundation.

"All levels of the competition also require students to apply chemistry concepts and exhibit quantitative problem-solving skills in a high-pressured and timed setting," Keese said.

Jevin, who earlier this year finished seventh grade at Kennedy Junior High School, also is a member of The Julian C. Stanley Study of Exceptional Talent, part of the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

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Students admitted into the program must have scored at least 700 on either the math or verbal portion of the SAT before age 13.

Jevin was among just 552 students who qualified in 2015, program spokeswoman Maria Blackburn said. That puts him in rare company -- only about 1 in 10,000 seventh-graders scores at least 700 on an SAT portion.

"We believe exceptionally bright kids need to be challenged and engaged and supported to reach their full potential," Blackburn said. "Often the standardized tests are taken at grade level and (exceptional students) are already at the ceiling, so how do you measure beyond the ceiling?

"As a fourth- or fifth-grader, you can take a test designed for a college-bound high schooler."

Jevin plans to study science, or maybe something related to computers, once he gets to college. "I most want to go to MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) but I have other options," he said.

Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville shows his winnings as the national champ of the "You Be The Chemist" challenge that took place in June in Philadelphia.
Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville shows his winnings as the national champ of the "You Be The Chemist" challenge that took place in June in Philadelphia. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He likes chemistry and physics equally.

"I can't really decide. That is my problem," he said. "With chemistry, you get to work with tests and fancy creations, calculations and stuff. With physics, it's almost necessary that you know math to do physics.

"But it's still cool to describe motion and the physical phenomena."

Away from the classroom, Jevin is a talented musician -- he plays with the Youth Symphony of DuPage -- and a self-taught one at that.

He learned to play the violin at age 10 by watching YouTube videos, after his mother told him that if he played music on his computer, he could exchange it for game-playing time later.

"I meant any music, and he chose the violin," Ann Liu said.

Jevin is a caring boy who's always willing to help with cooking and other chores, his mother said. She and her husband, who works in computer programming, are natives of China.

"He's kind. When I ask (for) help he always gives it to me," she said. "When people need help, he will always gives help."

Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville helps fellow volunteers with a project to refurbish computers for the needy. Liu volunteers as well as favors science academically.
Jevin Liu, 13, of Naperville helps fellow volunteers with a project to refurbish computers for the needy. Liu volunteers as well as favors science academically. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Jevin said volunteering, which he does in a variety of ways, is important to him. This summer he took part in a project that refurbishes old computers for the needy.

"We break the computers open, we take notes of each of the parts," he said. "I enjoy it."

He and his older brother, Jason, 15, also volunteer at the local library, helping answer questions in the children's section and reading to younger kids, Ann Liu said. Both enjoy accompanying her to her job as a caretaker for the elderly, with whom they play cards and music.

"It can be a good experience to visit seniors and hear what stories that they have," Jevin said.

Recently, he bought 50 books for the Little Friends nonprofit in Naperville, where he has volunteered to play music for kids with disabilities.

Eddie Ma, left, founder of the Better World Project to refurbish computers for the needy, looks up computer part components on the internet with Jevin Liu, 13. It was one way the Naperville teenager volunteers while also working with science.
Eddie Ma, left, founder of the Better World Project to refurbish computers for the needy, looks up computer part components on the internet with Jevin Liu, 13. It was one way the Naperville teenager volunteers while also working with science. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

He has attended the University of Chicago's Young Scholars Program, which allows young students an opportunity to explore math concepts beyond what they are taught in school. He also has participated in the Saturday Morning Physics program at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and in the American Mathematics Competition, finishing one question shy of making the Olympiad, his mother said.

Despite his many accomplishments, Jevin is not one to brag or speak highly of himself.

When his mother says he has a great memory, he's quick to jump in. "My memory is horrible!"

His ultimate plan is to discover resources in outer space, so people can stop waging war over Earth's resources.

"I don't understand that," he said. "Fighting."

• If you know of a young person whose story wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to standouts@dailyherald.com.

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