University of Utah
Michael Zhao

SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Zhao, a Salt Lake City native and senior in mathematics pursuing an honors degree at the University of Utah, has received the Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Zhao becomes one of only 15 students nationally to receive the award and is the second Churchill Scholar at the U.

“Having back-to-back Churchill scholars from the U. is a monumental achievement,” Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement. “We have no doubt Michael will excel at Cambridge and be an excellent representative of our university and state. He has further paved the path for future U. Churchill Scholars.”

The scholarship, established in 1963 at the request of Winston Churchill, provides undergraduates with outstanding academic achievement in the science, technology, engineering and math fields the opportunity to complete a one-year master’s program at the University of Cambridge.

Students go through a rigorous endorsement process to apply, but only after their home institution has been vetted with the Churchill Foundation. The U. was added to the foundation in spring 2014, and last spring it received its first Churchill Scholar, Mackenzie Simper, also a mathematician. The scholarship has been called “the most academically challenging of the U.K. scholarships.”

“It’s a common perception that skill in mathematics is only due to talent, but hard work counts for much more” Zhao said. “Having mentors is also extremely helpful, and I am indebted to many faculty members, graduate students and engineers for their guidance and encouragement.”

Zhao was drawn to math at an early age. In high school, he attended the Canada/USA Mathcamp and took math courses at the U. Upon graduating, he was awarded the Eccles Scholarship, supported by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, to continue his studies at the U.

This past summer, Zhao was an intern at Google. He developed a software-testing framework that allowed engineers to select exactly the servers they needed to handle login action in their software tests, reducing computer memory usage and server startup times.

Currently, Zhao is working on his honors thesis in number theory. He will use the Churchill Scholarship to pursue a master of advanced study in pure mathematics at Cambridge starting in the fall.

Upon completion, Zhao plans to return to the U.S. to complete his doctorate in mathematics, focusing on number theory.