Pittsford’s Amy Feng named a top student scientist in country

Honor Roll

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — There’s accomplished students, and then there’s Amy Feng.

The senior from Pittsford Sutherland High School has an impressive resume so far: she has graced the stage at Hochstein School of Music stage as a pianist and cellist, won a science competition with Regeneron, and this week added another.

Feng racked in an impressive honor again from Regeneron, this time part of their “Regeneron Science Talent Search.” She was named as a winner — along with other 300 student winners from a pool of over 1,800 entrants — across the country. Beside the feather in her cap, the distinction comes with a $2,000 cash prize.

Her project was called: “Extending Choice Probability to High Dimensional Neural Data.” Without access to a proper lab to recreate true biological experiments with monitoring equipment, Feng had to rely on previously published and researched data, then built a mathematical model.

“Our brains have billions of neurons that are always firing,” Feng said. “And the question I wanted to answer is ‘how does the activity of specific neurons affect decision making?’ So my objective was to estimate the impact of a group of recorded neurons on the subject’s decision making.”

In a lab, scientists would attach electrodes to monkeys for simple experiments, and record which neurons fired based on what decisions they made.

“When we analyze multiple neurons at a time and compare it with behavior it gives us much more information about how involved those neurons are in behavior compared to just using one neuron,” she said. “Because essentially we’re using more information to analyze the neural activity.”

She says that this mathematical formula is “foundational work,” and will help develop baseline data and methods of figuring out which neuron clusters. By determining this information, scientists can figure out which parts of the brain are involved with decision making in a more in-depth manner.

In addition to saying that she is “obviously happy” about being in such a select group of students to win this award, she is more pleased that Sutherland also received a stipend. She says it will allow more students to get involved in STEM fields, and have more access to research.

As Feng is a senior, she is applying to colleges at the moment. She won’t know until later this year, but does say she has applied to the University of Rochester.

Previous award with Regeneron:

Pittsford Sutherland Highs School junior Amy Feng will be competing at the 2021 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) from May 16 to 21, 2021. ISEF, organized by the Washington D.C.-based Society for Science, is the largest pre-college science competition that brings together leading young scientists worldwide to compete for scholarships and prizes.

Feng earned this honor by winning the Grand Award and the Highest Honors Commendation at the Terra Science and Education’s Rochester Finger Lakes Regional Science and Engineering Fair (TRFSEF), hosted virtually in March. 

Feng’s project investigated a research question directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, studying whether a protein in the coronavirus was likely to undergo major structural changes or denaturing under different ion concentrations. Judges gave high remarks on her project, saying “Amy’s work was beyond what I would expect from her age group. This project was scientifically sound and extremely relevant to current health conditions.”

It runs in the family

Feng’s mother is Hongyue Wang, who almost two years ago at the height of the pandemic, rallied members across the Chinese-American community in Rochester to buy and donate PPP to area hospitals.

“We’re Americans,” Wang said in May of 2020. “It started back in March, when the pandemic first started to appear in the US,” Wang said. “Most people in our community have witnessed what happens in Asia. Most have family connections there. We expected that PPE, and those supplies would be in shortage, because that’s what happened in China.”

This tight-knit community group has donated tens of thousands of masks, N95 respirators, and gloves combined, by forging connections with countrymen in China, as well as connection with area health care providers.

“Many people responded immediately, and donated what they had at home,” she said. Group members also gave extra boxes from churches and restaurants. “Thousands of them.”

They made their first donation of over 17,000 masks soon after in March, and continued to donate supplies throughout the height of the pandemic in 2020.

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