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Science is golden for brainy Nolan

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Waiakea High School graduate Nolan Kamitaki doesn’t like to brag (perfect 2,400 on his SATs), and while his parents are certainly proud of what he’s accomplished (first place in the International Science and Engineering Fair, one of two Presidential Scholars from Hawaii), they too are more apt to mind their manners than shout from the rooftops. (He’s going to Harvard!)

But press and dad Wayne Kamitaki will concede that Nolan’s academic achievements may indeed be worth talking about, if only to highlight the fact that Hawaii students are more than capable of competing on a national level. Prod and Nolan himself will acknowledge that the awards and recognition he’s accumulated are "nice markers," even if the greater reward for him is making connections with other accomplished students and scientists.

"In science so much is interconnected," says Nolan, his words coming in stop-and-go spurts. "There are so many paths between disciplines."

Nolan’s gifts were evident early on. Following the example of his equally precocious older brother Daniel, Nolan was already a capable reader at age 3. By elementary school he was already demonstrating the interest and aptitude of a young math whiz, setting aside the Tinker Toys in favor of complex logic problems.

Parents Wayne and Lynn encouraged his natural curiosity, and his fierce competitive nature, by enrolling him in extracurricular math and science programs.

Even as the recognition started to pour in — he took first place in the Hawaii State Science Fair as an eighth-grader and was named the Discovery Channel’s Young Scientist of the Year — the couple wondered whether they were doing the right thing.

"As typical Asian parents, we worried that he would try too much and fail," says Wayne, laughing. "We tried to slow him down, but he’s very self-motivated and we eventually gave up and let him go."

Through it all, Nolan has managed to balance his passion for math and science with other interests. An accomplished piano player, he also played clarinet in the school band. He takes golf lessons, even though he admits he’s better at watching sports than playing them.

And he broadened his circle of friends by being active in school government.

Still, it’s his academic work that provides Nolan his greatest satisfaction and inspires his dreams of the future. And as he enjoys a rare summer off with friends and family before heading to Cambridge, Mass., Nolan keeps his ultimate goal clearly in sight.

"There are always different ways of seeing things," he says, self-awareness giving way to excitement. "My life goal is to see what no one else has, to understand something in a way that no one else has before. If I can make even one small contribution to science, I think my life will have been worthwhile."

Reach Michael Tsai at


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