Michael Shao loves spending hours in a lab, examining a worm’s simple nervous system and analyzing computer-assisted data.
Science, technology and research are long-held passions for the 17-year-old Detroit Country Day School student. While combining these elements in competitions that have won him awards and major attention, he also envisions what could help shape the world’s future.
“Technology is the tool to directly deliver help to humans … but science and research behind it are the guiders,” Shao said.
That focus has steered the teen into space.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory recently named a minor planet after Shao. His studies of a worm nervous system helped win him the honor, along with a select group of students and teachers who ranked high in competitions headed by a group that partners with MIT. Officials with a NASA-funded program there discovered the planets and could propose a name approved by an international committee, according to the MIT website.
Minor planet 29803 Michaelshao is considered a main-belt asteroid and was discovered in 1999. The distant body, between Mars and Jupiter, can be located via the MIT lab website.
“Whenever I get my hands on a telescope, I’ll try to find it,” Shao said.
Lending one’s name to a minor planet is relatively rare: fewer than 15,000 people share the distinction, according to the MIT website.
“We are very proud of Michael and this accomplishment,” Detroit Country Day Headmaster Glen Shilling said in a statement. “His natural enthusiasm for learning ... has led to multiple academic successes including this exciting honor.”
The galactic tribute caps a long list of accomplishments.
The Northville resident started following computers and technology at a young age, he said.
At Detroit Country Day, Shao has been active in science, computer, business and math clubs. The teen also was a co-captain of the Science Olympiad Club and a varsity swimmer and track and field distance runner. He has played the piano since age 4 and has performed in competitions as well as concerts.
Shao has even found time to launch an effort to improve education for children in Detroit, collecting more than 3,000 books for the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corp.
He’s also a computer tutor for senior citizens at local libraries, he said. “It’s amazing to see their faces light up. I just really like that feeling.”
While it’s not uncommon for his classmates at one of Metro Detroit’s top schools to juggle so many extracurricular and academic pursuits, “doing as well as he did is not something we see every day,” said Cheryl Sullivan, his high school adviser.
Shao last month left for the Research Science Institute hosted at MIT, a competitive summer research program that selects international high school students. He works in a lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
After graduating next year, Shao hopes to attend MIT, Harvard or Stanford, then consider pursuing a career in biology, computer science or other fields.