March 5, 2014

Rising young star returns to Calgary Youth Science Fair as a judge

High school student's energy storage system amazed Schulich prof

Zeyu Liu looks around his world and sees problems he can fix.

The 18-year-old graduate of Winston Churchill High School is a rising science star who attracted national and international accolades for developing a hybrid magnetic-bearing design intended for flywheel energy storage systems. First presented at the Calgary Youth Science Fair, hosted by the University of Calgary, Liu’s innovations to the traditional flywheel battery system can reduce costs while avoiding toxic or harmful chemicals, making his prototype potentially useful in consumer products such as electric cars.

Liu’s interest in creating value for society is key to his future goal as a tech entrepreneur, as he looks for an engineering program with a strong grounding in humanities.

“I think that’s very important,” says Liu, who took a year off after high school to bolster his studies and expand his entrepreneurial network. “The most technologically advanced thinking may not be the best way to solve a problem.”

Next month, up to 1,000 students in Grades 5 to 12 will present their science projects at the Olympic Oval when the university hosts the youth science fair for the third year. The annual fair encourages an ongoing interest in science. More than 80 of the 650 volunteer judges are faculty or staff from the University of Calgary, who provide expertise, feedback and encouragement to participants.

Edwin Nowicki, an electrical engineering associate professor at the Schulich School of Engineering, first saw Liu’s project during the 2012 competition.

The son of university professors, Liu credits a Grade 8 teacher with introducing him to science fairs as a place to channel his love for building and creating things. He was quickly hooked. Over the next five years, Liu’s local science fair projects took him twice to Canada-wide competitions; twice to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where he won the top electrical and mechanical engineering awards; and once to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague. Twice he was honoured with awards from the Schulich School of Engineering.

Liu also won trips to the European competition and a tour of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at the CERN facility near Geneva: a powerful highlight for a young man doing his own magnet research.


“The CERN environment was really collaborative,” he says, adding the team spirit for the LHC project was exciting. “They’re working with cutting-edge technology. I’d like to be in that field.”

Liu has won thousands of dollars in prizes and scholarships, yet what he values most from his science fair experiences are the creative, energetic environments and the people he’s met: from mentors and entrepreneurs to other science-driven teens who have become his closest friends.

“When you compete, you get to meet talented, like-minded students,” says Liu, who will share his enthusiasm by being a science fair judge for elementary students in April. “The goal is to challenge yourself to do better.”

Interested in becoming a judge at the Calgary Youth Science Fair? Learn more.