Regeneron Recipient: Frank Liu

by Alyssa Chen and Emma Zhang, Features Reporter, Features Editor
photo contributed by Frank Liu, graphics by Julie Wang

The second that virtual classes let out last winter, senior Frank Liu rushed out the door, grabbing his bag and coat on his way to catch the next bus to Boston. With excess time during the online school year, many students turned to new hobbies, independent projects and quality family-bonding time to fill their after-Zoom hours; Liu’s version was working at a science lab, where he spent four to six hours every day after school, spending his time harvesting bacteria and purifying proteins. Over the course of a month, Liu created antimicrobial spider silk, which may have applications in preventing surgical site infections.   

The inspiration for this undertaking originated from a team project Liu worked on during the summer after his freshman year that ultimately didn’t pan out. After years of reflecting on the idea, Liu finally decided to pursue his research on antimicrobial protein and created antimicrobial spider silk. 

With the support of biology teacher Siana LaForest, Liu contacted LabShares Newton, a lab sharing company with which he was able to secure necessary equipment. Above all things, LaForest said that she was most impressed when witnessing Liu’s independence and initiative.

“He’s just genuinely excited about it and clearly passionate about doing science and experiments. He’s intellectually interested and engaged with the material,” she said. “When he did his experiments last year, the school was shut down, so he had to find a different place to do his experiments. I didn’t make any phone calls for him. He did it all himself. The independence and the confidence of being able to do that is really one way that I saw him change.”

Last summer, Liu participated in the Research Science Institute, a six-week-long program at MIT where 50 seniors nationwide are paired up with a professor to pursue a one-on-one research project. Although the pandemic turned this experience remote, Liu said this time turned out to be of valuable self-reflection.

“I learned a lot about what I actually wanted in academia. I did like the science aspect of it, but I realized just how important having a social aspect to science really meant to me, like being able to communicate with other students,” he said. “My love of science is very much intertwined with the people I’ve met while doing it.”

Sage Widder, senior and science team co-captain, said that Liu, both as a leader and friend, helped foster inclusivity on the team and has had a positive impact on her personally.

“He’s done a lot to make sure that people on the team have resources and are able to participate in competitions,” she said. “Also in my personal life, he’s been a great friend. It’s always good to have [both fun and serious] conversations with people, when you can connect about a feeling and also understand how someone else is feeling about something.”

Liu said that despite initially focusing his interests in the humanities, he ultimately became passionate about science because of the support he received at South.

“There was a transition in middle school where I was more into history and the humanities. I was really lucky in high school, as I was able to have multiple really great experiences with actual lab work and doing research,” he said. “From that, I learned a lot more about science than I used to, and that convinced me that maybe I‘d want to do science slightly more than writing, which I still do on the side.”

Liu’s junior English teacher Deborah Bernhard said that in addition to his science interests, he is a phenomenal and passionate writer.

“He’s really talented in things other than the sciences in vast fields,” she said. “He was able to express poetic feelings, not only in poetry, but in prose.”

Jordan Kraus, advisor of the science team and Liu’s AP Biology teacher, hopes that more people will recognize him for more than his intellect.

“He’s really an interesting person to talk to, and he can be someone who can support others. Just because he’s smart, one shouldn’t be intimidated,” she said.

Senior Aeden Kamadolli said he is grateful that Liu has always been there for him since they met in sophomore year.

“He’s been a really stable friend in my life. During the pandemic, everyone realized who actually cared about them,” Kamadolli said. “Frank has been a person who always makes sure that he checks in. He makes an effort to interact with me. He’s always been present and really supportive as a friend.”

With all the initiatives Liu has taken on in his high school years, Bernhard said that he has great potential to fundamentally impact society.

“People often use platitudes, and we say, ‘Oh, they’re going to change the world,’” she said. “However, I can genuinely think that about Frank. He’s just the most capable person I’ve ever met.”