Outdated browser!
Your current browser is out of date and might not be able to display this website correctly. Please update your browser. Or click below to continue using the site.
Update browser
Student Stories

Olympiad in sight for young maths whiz

When it comes to mathematics, few possess the talent – and enthusiasm – of ACG Parnell College’s Bufan (Brian) Zhao.

The 15-year-old maths whiz is one of 13 students from around the country to be selected for New Zealand’s Mathematical Olympiad training squad. If he makes the top six, he’ll be heading to Russia in July (Covid-19 dependent) to compete in the 2021 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

Brian was selected for the squad after attending an invite-only maths camp in January, along with fellow ACG Parnell College students Zelin Shao and Eric Liang.

“I really enjoyed the camp. It was great to be with like-minded people. I found friends who would willingly discuss maths with me for days!”

Brian compares maths to playing a game – a maze that brings a fresh challenge at every turn.

“As the maths gets harder, the maze gets more layers, every wrong turn leads you to a dead-end, and the bosses get harder to defeat. That’s where it gets exciting.”

Middle School mathematics coordinator John Liu is inspired by his passion for the subject.

Explains John, “Brian is a gifted mathematics student and a tremendous learner. He shows an excellent ability to work independently, preparing for difficult maths examinations and competitions, with little outside assistance. His motto is ‘we’re just here to have fun’ because he says if he doesn’t enjoy it, even if he wins a prize, it has little meaning to him.”

While maths isn’t everybody’s idea of “fun”, for Brian, there’s nothing better.

“The joy you feel after solving a hard problem is the joy universally shared by sports players after winning a game, or generals after winning a long and brutal campaign,” he says.

And his devotion has paid off. Not only was Brian first in his year in advanced mathematics in Years 8, 9 and 10 at ACG Parnell College, but he has competed successfully in ICAS (International Competitions and Assessments for Schools), the Australian Mathematics Competition, and the American Mathematics Competition, among many others.

However, mathematics isn’t the only area where Brian excels. His enthusiasm for science has seen him take first place in his year for science in Years 8, 9 and 10, win a design award in the VEX IQ NZ Nationals, and gain placings in both the NZ Informatics Competition and the Australian Invitational Informatics Olympiad. Plus, he has recently been awarded a gold medal for 2020 ICAS Science. This medal is given to the student who achieves the top score in the international competition, which boasts an extremely large field of entrants. Brian earned a perfect score of 40/40.

Says Middle School science coordinator Oliver Brown, “Brian is a determined student with a strong passion for science. Receiving this medal is a testament to the strength of his ability to apply his scientific knowledge critically to novel contexts, a crucial skill.”

The fact that Brian genuinely enjoys the subject greatly influences his success.

“Like maths, I find science exciting,” explains Brian. “I can learn about how the world works and link pieces of information together to form a larger image. It’s like reading the end of a detective novel when the truth is revealed.”

Not surprisingly, the gifted teen is setting his sights on a career that plays to his strengths.

“Naturally, I would like to become a mathematician or scientist, focusing on physics or data science.”

But for now, during his next few years at ACG Parnell College, Brian plans to make the most of all that’s on offer.

“I’m involved in a wide range of extracurricular activities, and the ones I put the most effort into include Vex Robotics, the Maths Solving Club, Duke of Edinburgh, Library Monitor and History Bowl. I’m also co-founder of the Coding Club.”

Luckily, he is at the right school to explore a wide range of activities and pursue all his passions – no matter how diverse they may be.

“The people at ACG are friendly and inclusive. Both teachers and students treat everyone equally regardless of their background, race, gender and sexuality. There are like-minded students who enjoy learning and excel in their own field, just like me. I really enjoy being in such a learning environment.”


For additional profiles and articles on the success of our students at ACG Parnell, please visit the following: Standout scholar named top in New Zealand and There’s no stopping Cambridge Dux: Sophia Ye