From the Pelham School District
PMHS Senior Olivia Pollock won 1st place overall and Best in Fair and classmate Ann Liu placed 2nd at the New York State Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) held last week. In addition to winning a $2,000 scholarship, Olivia will now travel to the 60th National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April to compete with 245 other high school students.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Olivia, who is looking forward to competing in New Mexico. “I’m really excited to meet other people who are so invested in their research.”
Olivia’s research project, titled “Developing and Evaluating Fucose-Based Water-Soluble Bioplastics” has been ongoing since year one, when the idea was developed from a “Shark Tank” project. .
Last spring, as a junior, Olivia wrote a grant and presented the proposed research plan to AMPLIFY, a local association of teachers, parents, community members, educational support organizations,
alumni and students committed to improving the scientific research program at PMHS. By continuing research, Oliva invented a type of plastic made from natural materials that can break down in the environment as well as in water for which a provisional patent has been granted.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who is part of this program,” Olivia said, noting teachers Steven Beltecas and Joe DiBello, as well as Dr. Tom Callahan, director of science and math, and AMPLIFY members. “I wouldn’t be who I am today and wouldn’t have come as far as I have without them.”
In addition to finishing second at JSHS, Ann, along with fellow PMHS student Andrew Kelly, made the top 300 Regeneron Scholars earlier this year. Ann’s research has focused on “studying retinal regeneration strategies in mammals via integrated analysis of single-cell RNA sequencing datasets”.
“In my family, we have a history of visual impairment, even if it’s just something like nearsightedness,” Ann said. “I have always been concerned about the deterioration of the eye, so when I joined Science Research and had the opportunity to conduct my own research, I knew I wanted to pursue something with research on the retina and a treatment for retinal diseases.”
“We are so proud of Olivia and Ann for this amazing achievement,” Mr. Beltecas said. “The motto of our contest is ‘Victory for one is victory for all.’ This win truly exemplifies the family environment and excellence mentality we have in the research program.Throughout the winter, our students at all levels work on presentations giving positive and constructive feedback to presenters in the goal of making everyone better. We are so proud of our entire research program to work together and support each other on a daily basis!”
Both Olivia and Ann said that participating in the science research program has helped them grow as students and they look forward to continuing their studies in science after graduating from PMHS.
“I think back to the first presentation I gave every once in a while,” Olivia said. “I was terrified of presenting and it didn’t go well. Seeing how I’ve progressed has been truly amazing. This program has made me who I am today and prepared me where I’m going to.”
Ann echoed those points, noting that the program particularly helped with public speaking and presentation skills.
“Scientific research is definitely like family,” Ann said. “Some of my closest friends I made because I sat next to them in 9th grade. This program made me a better student in terms of presentation – I was terrified to think speaking in public at first, I couldn’t do it with confidence. But after practicing so many times, I got so used to it.”
Learn more about the PMHS scientific research program
The PMHS Science Research program is taught by Steve Beltecas and Joe DiBello. Students work with professional mentors in a variety of fields ranging from environmental and behavioral sciences to cancer research, among others. Students are able to work together and often review each other’s work, provide feedback, and hone their presentation and public speaking skills.
Learn more about JSHS
JSHS is a tri-service STEM competition sponsored by the United States Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force that promotes original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at the secondary level and publicly recognizes students. for an outstanding achievement. Regional and national JSHS symposia are held during the school year and reach more than 8,000 high school students and teachers across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Schools Europe and Pacific.
Read more about Olivia and Ann’s research below:
Olivia Pollock – “Development and evaluation of water-soluble bioplastics based on fucose”
Since their invention decades ago, single-use plastics have shaped the way people live. However, in recent years, light has been shed on the dangers they pose to marine ecosystems due to the toxins released. Despite the environmental risks associated with single-use plastic waste, there is little research regarding the development of water-soluble bioplastics from renewable sources to mitigate these effects. The goal of this study was to develop water-soluble bioplastics from algae and other natural materials. This work extends previous methods of developing bioplastics, but the composition of the polymer itself is novel. It was hypothesized that there would be a difference in dissolution and pH alteration of fucose-based products compared to previously developed PVA-based plastics. Four runs were performed, each with varying amounts of bulk fucose.
Additionally, these assays were directly compared to previously studied polyvinyl alcohol-based plastics with different bulk PVA compositions. Each product has been tested in fresh water and 3.5% saline; The pH level was recorded after each 24 hour interval. I found the 90% fucose plastic to dissolve the most at 63.24% dissolution; this was less than the 72.55% dissolved mass of 90% PVA plastic. Chi-Square tests comparing fucose and PVA plastics showed no significant difference in dissolutions. PVA plastics did not significantly change their freshwater environment, while fucose-based plastics significantly changed pH after 24 and 48 hours of testing, as evidenced by P values of 0.0002 and 0.001, respectively.
Ann Liu – “Investigation of mammalian retinal regeneration strategies via integrated analysis of single-cell RNA sequencing datasets”
Neurodegenerative retinal diseases cause irreversible cell loss, leading to blindness since mammalian retinas cannot regenerate. In contrast, zebrafish retinas regenerate after Mullerian glial (MG) cell damage through cellular reprogramming, proliferation, and neurogenesis. Recent studies have stimulated the reprogramming of MG mice using actors associated with regeneration, for example, the neurogenic transcription factor Ascl1, NMDA, Hdac inhibitor TSA, STAT inhibitor (ANTSi treatment) or YAP5SA (treatment YAP5SA), resulting in varying degrees of cell proliferation and neurogenesis; reprogramming MG single-cell RNA sequencing datasets were generated and analyzed in each study. Nevertheless, a side-by-side comparison of these reprogramming mouse MGs has not been reported, a critical knowledge gap in therapeutic development. Here, I independently performed an integrated analysis of four sets of raw single-cell RNA sequencing data. I assessed cell proliferation and differentiation in the integrated dataset and identified differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in YAP5SA+ MGs, ANTSi MGs, and ANTSi neurons compared to control NMDA MGs. My study generated new findings: a) MG YAP5SA+ and MG ANTSi reprogrammed from control NMDA
MG distinctly; b) ANTSi treatment is more effective for retinal regeneration; c) new DEGs in these reprogramming MGs have been identified; d) NFI and Ezh2 genes were still expressed in ANTSi MGs and YAP5SA+ MGs, likely affecting proper neurogenesis. My study also confirmed previous reports: a) YAP5SA+ MGs proliferated but did not generate neurons; b) ANTSi MGs proliferated and generated neurons but did not pass through the appropriate progenitor stages. Taken together, my findings provide further insight into the mechanisms underlying MG reprogramming in mice, bringing us one step closer to retinal regeneration in mammals.