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Head start on road of science

At 18, a Columbia student is already a junior at Ohio State
Tuesday, September 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:13 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

When Columbia’s Daniel Tse reaches Ohio State University this week, he will probably be the only student there with an asteroid named after him.

The honor was one of the fruits of an international science competition in which Tse, 18, placed second in the biochemistry division. His research centered on prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and was among thousands of projects entered in the Intel competition.

Tse does not stop at science, however. He has won several competitions for art, math and debate, said his mother, Pearlly Yan. He loves to bike, play piano and video games, play soccer and watch “The West Wing.”

Tse was born in Ames, Iowa, where both of his Hong Kong-born parents were working on doctorates at Iowa State University. An only child, Tse is what he calls an “ABC” — American-born Chinese.

Yan is obviously proud of her son, but also humble.

“I would not describe Daniel as gifted,” said Yan, a cancer researcher at Ohio State. “His abilities are quite well-rounded and he can excel in quite a number of them if he applies himself.”

Tse’s father works as an engineer for the state of Missouri. One might assume these careers pushed Tse in the direction of science, but his mother said this isn’t so. Although Yan recalls Tse spending great amounts of time with her in the laboratory when he was a child, she doesn’t take credit for his interest in research.

“I do not think I particularly encourage him in science,” she said.

Brian Cooksey and Tse became good friends three or four years ago, although they were neighbors since elementary school. Tse went to Hickman High School, and Cooksey went to Rock Bridge High School.

“We always like to think that we haven’t been that average, but we have done a lot of typical teenage stuff,” said Cooksey, now a freshman at MU.

“Typical teenage stuff” turns out to be working on projects.

“Sometimes when we get really bored we will pick up a new project,” Cooksey said.

This summer they made a potato gun, and two summers ago they biked from Columbia to St. Louis with other friends.

“The reason we have always got along well is because he is motivated to actually do stuff,” Cooksey said.

“Motivated” may be the perfect word to describe Tse. After working for a family friend in an MU laboratory two summers ago, Tse wasn’t sure whether science excited him. However, he stuck with it, and after taking more science classes in high school, he decided to do a little research of his own.

He heard of the Intel competition and began working on the Alzheimer’s project in June or July of 2003. Tse’s research turned into more than a summer project. From September to October, he said, he worked 40 hours a week in the lab and attending high school.

Tse blames himself. “It was poor planning on my part — I should have started earlier,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big the scope of the project was.”

Cooksey didn’t expect Tse to take the project that seriously.

“Oh, you know, part-time job, that’s cool,” Cooksey said. “(He) hadn’t really bragged about it.”

However, Tse was obviously dedicated to his work.

“It would be about 10:30 at night and he would say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go check on my experiment; be back in 30 minutes,’” Cooksey said.

As for the future, Tse said he has a few ideas, including graduate school. Cooksey said he sees Tse doing “something in science, definitely. He has been talking about becoming a doctor, but I could also see him staying with research.”

Yan doesn’t make predictions about Tse’s career path, hoping only for his happiness.

“I pray and hope he is doing what he enjoys and is good at in 10 or 15 years,” she said.

At Tse’s pace, a diploma might not be far away: He is already considered a junior at Ohio State.


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