Once homeless, Chicago student was finalist in Intel science competition

CHICAGO — A once-homeless Chicago high school senior has received a full scholarship to Stanford University and was a finalist in one of the nation’s most prestigious science competitions.

Though Lane Gunderman, 18, was not the winner of the Intel Science Talent Search’s top award — worth $100,000 — he received $8,500 total for making the final round. Results were announced Tuesday evening at the end of a weeklong competition Gunderman attended in Washington, D.C.

Sara Volz of Colorado Springs, Colo., nabbed the top award for her research of algae biofuels.

Gunderman’s chemistry project researched molecular dynamics simulations to explore the mechanics of energy transport in photosynthesis and was chosen out of more than 1,700 applications, making him one of the country’s 40 finalists.

Gunderman said he never expected to make it that far in the competition.

Six years ago, Gunderman and his family were living in various homeless shelters on the North Side. Gunderman was homeschooled by his mother up until sixth grade, when he entered public school. At Burley Elementary School in Lakeview, teachers noticed Gunderman’s aptitude and suggested he apply to University of Chicago Lab High School. He was accepted and received a full scholarship from the Malone Foundation.

“He has a huge amount of curiosity,” said David Derbes, Gunderman’s former physics teacher at Lab. “He wants to know stuff, master stuff. And he has an actual ability at it.”

His trip to D.C. marked his first time traveling by airplane, an experience he compared to riding a roller coaster.

Gunderman, who said he enjoys playing video games and hanging out with friends, has applied to 11 colleges. He is still waiting to hear back from schools like Harvard, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago; he said he has been accepted at California Institute of Technology and Stanford.

“I always knew I was going to go to a college,” Gunderman said Tuesday, when asked if he thought he’d have pursued higher education when he was younger. “But I didn’t know if it would be a very good one.”