The STEM 10 with David Zhang

David Zhang first caught our attention as the winner of the Texas Instruments Award of Excellence at this year’s Middle Tennessee Regional STEM Expo, sponsored by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub. David is a rising junior at the STEM Academy at Kenwood High School in Clarksville. His winning entry was a computer program that automates chemical calculations to aid in laboratory and classroom chemistry work.

We wanted to know more about this future STEM leader and so asked him to respond to our STEM 10.

David Kai Zhang

  1. Age: 16
  2. David ZhangHometown: Knoxville, TN (Age 1-7); Clarksville, TN (7-Present)
  3. Favorite bands/artists: I don’t listen to music much, but when I do, I prefer the classics: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Holst’s The Planets, and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto are a few of the pieces you’ll find on my playlist.
  4. Favorite subjects in school: Physics and Engineering are the two most interesting classes I’ve taken at school, but my two favorites are actually ones that I’ve been independently learning: calculus and computer science.
  5. Hobbies outside of school: I devote quite a bit of my time to advanced studies in topics beyond what my school teaches, such as linear algebra, complexity theory, and quantum computation. When I’m not studying, I love to do some programming and puzzle-solving, and I play a little bit of the clarinet, harmonica, piano, and guitar.
  6. What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail? I think the better question is “What wouldn’t I attempt?” With no fear of failure, I think I would give just about anything a shot. With that said, though, given the knowledge that there would be no way I could fail, I would immediately start trying to cure all of the world’s diseases.
  7. What big STEM problem would you like to help solve and why? I would love to help in the discovery of a proof that either P = NP or P ≠ NP, a huge open problem in theoretical computer science. Essentially it asks whether any problem for which a potential solution can be checked efficiently can itself be solved efficiently (e.g. a jigsaw puzzle). If P = NP, then all such problems would be solvable efficiently, and there would be remarkable consequences across a huge variety of fields. For example, it would break all public-key cryptography, but would greatly accelerate many computational problems in scientific research.
  8. What would you do with $1000 if you had to spend it in one week? I’ve always wanted to give high-end computational devices a try, and I’ve heard some good things about the GTX 690.
  9. What are your plans for future study? I definitely plan on going to college and pursuing an advanced degree, probably a doctorate; I can’t wait to be doing some real research and working on the very boundary of human knowledge. I couldn’t say with certainty what I plan to major in, but right now I think I can safely narrow it down to physics, mathematics, or computer science.
  10. Mentors who have helped you and how they did so: I don’t think I can name anybody as a mentor in the sense of having taught me everything I know. Of course, I have to thank my amazing parents and teachers for inspiring me to excel, but I think the greater part of what I know is thanks to my acting on that inspiration, taking initiative, and educating myself beyond the classroom curriculum. To point to a very relevant example, the computer science and programming know-how that won me a gold medal at the STEM Expo a few months ago was entirely self-taught from books and online resources.
The development environment for David's winning program.

The development environment for David’s winning program.

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