Gerald Meixiong knows a thing or two about competition.
The 17-year-old has been testing his intellectual skills as a member of the Math Team, the Science Olympiad team and the Science Bowl team since his freshman year at Lakeside High School.
He’s been a contender in just about everything he pursues, taking home medals as a member of Lakeside’s swimming team. He even earned the title of 2013 Male Athlete of the Year in February at the CSRA Swimming and Diving Championships.
But now the high school senior is playing for a national title.
Next month, Meixiong will travel to Washington, D.C. to present his biochemistry research project in the national finals of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation’s premier research competition for high school students.
The winner could take away a $100,000 prize and offers from the nation’s top research universities. Meixiong will be among an elite six high school students whittled down from 2,440 who registered for this year’s competition and a total of 1,599 projects that were submitted for consideration.
This past weekend, he came out on top among 100 regional finalists who competed at Georgia Institute of Technology. The entries were judged by some of Georgia Tech’s leading scientists and researchers and announced at a banquet Saturday night, Meixiong said.
“I was pretty surprised,” he said. “I didn’t think I did extremely well in my Q & A session.”
Meixong’s father, Dr. Lin Mei, a research scientist at Georgia Regents University, said his son was quite pessimistic about his chances after his question and answer session with the Georgia Tech faculty members.
Mei said there was a long wait between the end of the competition and the awards banquet that night.
“He had a good, long few hours of depression and anxiety,” Mei said. “Based on their presentations, every kid was so perfect. Every kid thought the others had won.”
Meixiong’s project, titled “Cell-Cycle Regulated Membrane Association of NuMA: A Novel Pathway for Efficient Chromosome Segregation,” won first in the region and a $3,000 individual scholarship. The project focused on the role of the NuMA protein in cell division or mitosis. “By studying how and why chromosomes are pulled towards opposite ends, Gerald discovered a novel mechanism for efficient chromosome segregation,” according to the Seimens foundation press release.
Meixiong said the research, supervised under his mentor, Dr. Quansheng Du at Georgia Regents University, showed the protein had an important effect on regulating how fast cells divide and reproduce. He said they used a mutated version of the protein to slow down cell division, which was a breakthrough that other researchers had not established.
“The first results we obtained were quite unexpected, so we were encouraged to study the forces of mitosis even more,” he said.
Meixiong said the project results could have implications for medical researchers seeking to slow the growth of cancerous tumors, among other purposes.
Meixiong has high hopes for the national competition. Winning would be ideal, but placing third or better would let him outshine his older brother, James, in at least one area.
James Meixoing, who graduated from Lakeside in 2009, also won the Seimens regional round and placed fourth in the national finals in 2008. He recently graduated from Harvard and is pursuing an advanced degree at Johns Hopkins University, his brother said.
“Our family has high expectations,” he said. “It can be pretty tough living in the shadow of your older brother.”
His father agreed that Gerald had a difficult role model to emmulate. Mei said his younger son was encouraged to pursue similar interests as his brother, almost by default.
His wife, Wen Cheng Xiong, also is a GRU researcher. Since they both have demanding schedules at work, it was difficult to take the boys to different activities. Luckily, Gerald actually enjoyed most of the same things as James.
“He aims very high, too,” said Mei, acknowledging the brotherly competition the two share in academic and athletic pursuits.
Gerald Meixiong, who is currently dual-enrolled at GRU, has applied for acceptance at Harvard and Georgia Tech, but is keeping his long term options open.
“I’m not quite exactly set on a major or college yet,” he said. “I’m considering computer science or biology.”