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Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008

IU honors student named Britain's Marshall Scholar winner

Triple-major student entered IU at age 15

Dec. 4, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A 19-year-old Indiana University student who this spring will graduate Phi Beta Kappa with majors in chemistry, mathematics and Germanic studies has been named a 2009 Marshall Scholar by the British government.

The scholarship, one of 40 awarded this year to students in the U.S., will allow Yun William Yu to travel to Britain and earn master's degrees over the next two years in computational biology at the University of Cambridge and biomedical physical chemistry at Imperial College London.

Described by his professors as "the best IU has to offer" and as "a modern Renaissance Man in development," Yu will be the first undergraduate at Indiana University to write an honors thesis in mathematics. Both a Herman B Wells and a Barry M. Goldwater scholar, Yu entered IU at age 15 after graduating from Southridge High School in Huntingburg, Ind.

"William's precise understanding of his abilities and assured command of the disciplines he is studying outweigh many graduate students and young faculty members," said Indiana University President Michael McRobbie in a letter nominating Yu for the honor. "He has won top awards, prizes, scholarships and fellowships in three departments: chemistry, mathematics, and psychological and brain sciences; he was chosen last year as a Goldwater Scholar; and his professors consistently rank him as one of the most brilliant students they have yet to encounter."

Following his overseas studies, Yu hopes to return to the U.S. and embark upon an MD/PHD program that places him, he said, "at the junction of math, physics, chemistry, biology and medicine." Yu eventually wants a career in interdisciplinary research that would one day help achieve significant breakthroughs in the treatment of chronic pain.

In addition to noting his keen scientific sense, professors also lauded Yu for his artistic creativity, his overwhelming curiosity, and for his constant quest to learn how things work and why.

"I have no memory of any student in my 19 years at Indiana University as fully talented as William when measured by the totality of their virtues," said Kent Orr, a professor in the IU Department of Mathematics. "William dances and occasionally teaches dance, he takes voice lessons, acting lessons, reads voraciously and uses every moment of his day to his advantage. William is a modern Renaissance Man in development."

Cathrine Reck, a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the IU Department of Chemistry, predicted Yu would succeed at meeting his goals.

"I have taught over 600 chemistry majors in the last six years and over 6,600 science students overall, and I can easily say that William is in the top 0.1 percent of these students," she said. "His ambitions mesh well with his abilities, and I feel extremely confident he will fulfill his aspirations."

In addition to his academic credentials, Yu has had a full social life since coming to IU. He has been a performer with the IU Swing Dance club, a singer with Collins Living-Learning Center's a cappella group The Sexy Flatts, and served as coordinator on the Hutton Honors College's Labyrinth literary magazine. While at IU, Yu also has volunteered at the Bloomington Hospital emergency room, Wonderlab and Habitat for Humanity, and he serves on the Board of Aeons, the student research and advisory board to the IU Office of the President.

"One of my career ambitions involves integrating several disparate disciplines into something novel," he said. "The Marshall Scholarship will provide me the opportunity to study under the leading experts in those fields, making the connections with potential collaborators I later will need in order to pursue interdisciplinary research."

Yu credits his parents, Wen and Hsiupao Yu, with instilling a foundation of curiosity and love of learning at an early age, and he recognized two IU professors for their mentoring, the late professor J. Michael Walker of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Orr.

Walker "not only sparked my interest in scientific inquiry, but also ingrained in me the need to better the human condition through such endeavors," Yu said, while Orr, "demonstrated to me the utility and elegance of connecting disparate fields, allowing for the translation of advances in one discipline to the other and vice versa."

Yu is expected to begin his studies abroad in the fall of 2009. Valued at over $60,000, the scholarship pays fees, living expenses, fares to and from the U.S., and supplies grants for books, research, daily travel and for a thesis. He becomes IU's 17th Marshall Scholar winner since the award's inception in 1954 and the second in as many years, following 2008 winner Jenna Sherry, who was a senior in the Jacobs School of Music.

To speak with William Yu, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or