Proceedings of the inaugural Polygence Symposium of Rising Scholars on Saturday, August 29 2020

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Our inaugural symposium took place on Saturday August 27, 2020, and was a great success! We are excited to share our students’ accomplishments below.

You can also read Polygence's blog post about the Inaugural Polygence Symposium of Rising Scholars.

You can watch the recordings of the Symposium here:


A Note from the Polygence Team

We at Polygence are incredibly proud of our 5 presenters at the inaugural Symposium of Rising Scholars. I founded Polygence with my co-founder Janos with the mission of democratizing access to research and to world class mentors. It is our ultimate goal to help students fall in love with learning, with asking questions, and with challenging themselves intellectually. The work that you’re about to read is by students who fully embody these principles. Each and every one of these students have worked hard to formulate their own research questions, learned how to conduct independent research on topics that they have chosen under the guidance of their mentors, and crafted presentations to showcase their findings with the wider community.

I want to express my special thanks to these students’ mentors - many of whom were present at the symposium to cheer on their students and support other presenters. Polygence is what is today thanks to your passion for education and tireless support of our students.

I would also like to give a huge thank you to Staci Hill, Polygence’s Head of Customer Success. Without her meticulous organization and effort, this symposium (and most of Polygence’s day to day operations) would not have been possible.

We look forward to welcoming more presenters and audience members to our next symposium. Stay tuned for more information!


Jin Chow

Co-Founder & Program Coordinator at Polygence

August 27, 2020


Opening Remarks

Thank you all for coming today. We have attendees tuning in from every time zone in the contiguous USA to watch the inaugural Symposium of Rising Scholars, which means for some of you it is your dinner time. So thank you for tuning in.

Our student presenters tonight all started their Polygence projects in the last year, amidst a pandemic. Instead of lamenting over their original summer plans, they each took charge of their time at home, and decided to do something great.

Our culture has become less familiar with this concept—doing great things at home. Most of us leave home even if just for the day to the things we’re most proud of, whether that be our work at school, or on a sports team, in speech and debate, orchestra, or other extra curriculars. All these activities happen outside the house. Then, by the time high school is over, many of us—myself included—leave home for college. The pandemic has forced us to find a new default. Home is now not only where the heart is, it is also where the hustle is.

But there’s no reason why home cannot and should not be the primary origin of great inquiry and innovation. Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and the Walt Disney Brothers all started their great ventures at home, specifically in their garages. A fun fact circling the internet this summer was that Sir Isaac Newton did his groundbreaking work in physics during the 1665 plague, from his family estate. That is, at home.

Janos and Jin are no strangers to this concept either. Our two co-founders came up with the idea for Polygence in a kitchen. Their kitchen. Their families were living together when they started building an online platform to give students the opportunity to learn whatever they want however they want from home.

The presentations today are a testament to how much great work one can do from home. I have no doubt you will learn something new and interesting from each. We have five amazing presenters to share their work with you today. Please give them all a round of applause as we welcome them to the virtual stage.

-Staci Hill, Head of Academics at Polygence


The Lifespan of Alzheimer Disease

Author and Presenter: Alexandra Fassett

Hometown: Oakland, NJ

Mentor: Marija K.

Read Alexandra's Polygence Blog Post


Alzheimer Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects about 5.8 million people today, and is expected to grow to 13.8 million in 2050. AD is a disorder that begins on the biochemical level with neurofibrillary tangles and β-amyloid plaques. As the biochemical pathology accumulates throughout different regions of the brain, from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex, it manifests in characteristic clinical symptoms. These included forgetfulness, memory loss, behavior issues, and many other debilitating cognitive changes. Alzheimer Disease leads to a low quality of life, as the clinical symptoms can be drastic, leading to many patients being bedridden. Although the effects of Alzheimer are life-altering, there is currently no cure. AD is primarily treated with two medications, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, which only slightly improve a subset of clinical symptoms. Possible future treatments may target the root biochemical causes of AD.


Gut Microbiota, Nutrition, and Allergies

Author and Presenter: Kevin Chen Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Mentor: Niokhor D.

Read Kevin's Polygence Blog Post


This presentation and paper explains the different microbiota that can be found in the human gut. I investigate the relationship between humans and the microbes that live on and inside of us and outline the various functions that the gut microbiome performs for the human body. These functions include but are not limited to supplying essential nutrients, synthesis of vitamins, promoting angiogenesis, as well as aiding in digestion. My paper also discusses the hygiene hypothesis with regards to the rise of food allergies in developed countries. This hypothesis proposed that decreased family size, increased cleanliness, and decreased childhood infections could lead to an increased prevalence of allergic diseases. Questions that motivate my research include the following: how do our gut microbes affect our health and nutrition? What role does our gut microbiome play in food allergies humans develop?


Finding the constant to an accelerating universe: the Hubble Constant

Author and Presenter: Anagha Ramanth Home town: Short Hills, NJ

Mentor: Ava P.


For my project, I have redone what Edwin Hubble (a famous astrophysicist) did to find out that the universe is expanding, as well as accelerating. He discovered a relationship between the distance to a galaxy and its velocity, famously known as the Hubble Constant. To calculate my own distances, I used 50 Type Ia supernovae as standard candles (exploding stars with high luminosities that are used to measure distances) and already verified velocities to create my version of the “Hubble diagram”. Although there is a controversy behind the true value of this number, my estimate came out to around 55.05km/s/Megaparsec, which is a pretty acceptable value in the field. Only time will be able to tell whether my estimate was close, and what this will mean for the ultimate fate of the universe as well as how it began.


The Biochemistry of Skin Hydration

Author and Presenter: Anna Xing

Home town: Brookline, MA

Mentor: Abi H.


As the largest human organ, the skin protects the body by providing a barrier between itself and the outside environment. For skin to function properly, it needs to be hydrated. Without hydration, skin breaks and loses its ability to keep foreign substances out of the body. A broken skin barrier can cause diseases such as bacterial and fungal infections. To maintain hydration of the skin, people drink water and use cosmetic products such as lotions, which add moisture to the skin and provide the skin with complementary compounds to ensure a secure barrier. Many complex elements contribute to efficient skin hydration. Some areas of my research include the Stratum Corneum (SC), as well as the protein Aquaporin 3, among other factors. This paper reviews the current understanding of the SC, Aquaporin 3, glycerol, and urea, with a particular focus on their roles in skin hydration.


The Psychological Impact of COVID-19

Author and Presenter: Luke Jain

Home town: San Marino, CA

Mentor: Gabor O.

Read Luke's Polygence Blog Post


The COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide quarantines have been clearly impactful towards the mental health of many. For instance, prior research has indicated a spike in symptoms of anxiety and insomnia in healthcare workers, those dealing with the virus on the front line. A broad-based psychological survey was created and conducted in order to evaluate the extent of the shifts to mental wellness caused by coronavirus. The four areas tested were worries, lifestyle changes, general wellness, and an adaptation of historical research by Lawrence Kohlberg. The study pays particular attention towards differences in values between demographies like age, expanding upon the notion of a high variance in the types of responses.

Unsurprisingly, health-related worries were the most popular (25.6%) with worries about loved ones not far behind (16.0%). However, while less popular, worries about school and education were more impactful to those who had them. This presentation explores the various nuances of the survey results and proposes interpretations of generational differences in worries.

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