Elizabeth Zhang ’22 Named 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar

Elizabeth Zhang ’22 was honored as a 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar, a title received by 161 high school seniors across the nation, in the general academics track. The program recognizes and honors some of the most distinguished and talented graduating seniors around the nation.

The U.S. President Scholars Program was established in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, admitting students from three tracks: general academic achievements, the arts, and career and technical studies. Over 4,000 students, who are selected by the DVD program based on standardized testing scores, apply to go through the rigorous selection process every year.

Looking up to last year’s winner Erik Wang ’21 from Andover who was a mentor figure to her, Zhang felt as though becoming a Presidential Scholar was out of her reach.

“I felt like [Presidential Scholar] was something I could never attain. Last year, the winner from the school was Eric Wang, and he was very much a mentor figure to me. He just did so many cool things. He was knowledgeable and passionate about pretty much everything. I felt like it was really unobtainable for me,” said Zhang.

Zhang believes that it was her love and passion towards everything she was involved in—from chemistry to scientific research to the magazine she created—that made her stand out as a potential scholar. Her interests and the people she met along the way all helped her grow and improve in different ways.

“I think part of the reason why I was selected was because I just love what I do. I loved the small moments in my research camp where we stayed up until 1 am on Discord voice calls, where we ended up regrouping into this magazine even after the program ended because we just loved science and bringing science to the world so much. I love Chemistry club—that’s like my heart and soul at Andover, being able to do cool wacky stuff with them,” said Zhang.

Chemistry has become one of Zhang’s main interests over the years. Her love for chemistry was sparked by the Chemistry 580 course she took in Lower year and continued to grow as she went on to compete in the U.S. Chemistry Olympiad, became involved in scientific research, and served as the Co-President of Chemistry Club at Andover.

“When I was in Chemistry 580, where we finally got to really derive each of the equations and understand where they were coming from, it just seemed so intuitive. All the topics that seemed so disparate before seemed to come together. I was so fascinated that, in my free time, I started reading chemistry textbooks. I ended up doing the Chemistry Olympiad and that opened doors for me to do chemistry research,” said Zhang.

Zhang attended the Garcia Program at Stony Brook University, where she and a team of students conducted research about more sustainable ways to recycle waste. The research findings were later published in the American Chemical Society and the Materials Research Society conferences.

“It was really perfect for me, because it’s material science, and as a chemistry person, we use a lot of chemistry in material science. We decided to try and find a really sustainable, industrially-friendly way to recycle and repurpose waste fabric… We ended up finding a really simple method to just break it down completely into fibers just using citric acid and sodium nitrate, two very eco-friendly materials,” said Zhang.

After attending the research program, Zhang and several other students decided to create a science communication magazine dedicated to taking pure scientific articles and simplifying the language to be more understandable to a general audience. They published their first issue in August of 2021 and are currently planning an issue focused on neurological disorders.

“I founded a science communication magazine with a bunch of my peers from the research program. We thought, ‘What if we took very complex research articles… and tried to just break them down into very understandable language for a broader audience. A lot of the time, science isn’t coming directly from these journals, it’s been synthesized over and over, so you lose a lot of that pure data,” said Zhang.

Zhang plans to study and research neuroscience in college, where she could focus on medicine because it ties many of her current major interests, including research and science.

“I really hope that I’ll be able to do a lot of research in college. I want to be able to study neuroscience for sure, hopefully in pre med because I feel like medicine is what brings a lot of my interests together. Medicine directly trickles down to people, so you have that very human aspect that keeps you very tethered to reality. And, of course, you can also do a lot of research,” said Zhang.