Sunday 22 April 2018

Killer superbug project wins top prize for budding young scientist

Winner Simon Meehan (15), from Colaiste Choilm, Co Cork, with Education Minister Richard Bruton and BT Ireland managing director Shay Walsh MD Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Winner Simon Meehan (15), from Colaiste Choilm, Co Cork, with Education Minister Richard Bruton and BT Ireland managing director Shay Walsh MD Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Ian Begley

Transition year student Simon Meehan could barely contain his excitement as he was announced the overall winner at the BT Young Scientist event.

The 15-year-old from Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork, won the top award at the 54th running of the competition, which continues to grow.

Thousands of the country's brightest teenagers held their breath and there were huge cheers from Simon's schoolmates and other students as the winner was announced.

He took home the top prize for his project entitled 'Investigation into the antimicrobial effects of both aerial and root parts of selected plants against Staphylococcus aureus'. His project, inspired by his grandfather, found that extracts from common plants could help fight superbugs such as MRSA.

Amy Keenan-O'Hara, Molly Budd (17) and Rosaleen Keehan, from Mercy College Sligo with their project entitled 'Can Birds predict the Weather?' Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Amy Keenan-O'Hara, Molly Budd (17) and Rosaleen Keehan, from Mercy College Sligo with their project entitled 'Can Birds predict the Weather?' Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Simon selected nine locally sourced plants such as asparagus, nettles and blackberries to test for the presence of chemicals which could potentially be used to control bacterial infection. The leaves of the blackberry plant were shown to contain a chemical which prevented the growth of different bacteria.

An emotional Simon said: "Everyone says this but how I feel is indescribable. Thank you so much to everyone.

'Fearghal Burke (17), from Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna, with his project 'A statistical analysis of Irish winning Lotto numbers'
'Fearghal Burke (17), from Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna, with his project 'A statistical analysis of Irish winning Lotto numbers'

"It's simply not possible to describe how I feel.

"This project was inspired by my grandfather who really put his heart and soul into remedies and his own techniques. I really hope I made him proud.

"My message to everyone interested in science would be to pursue their ambitions to the fullest. The response you can get from this exhibition is indescribable - I really had an amazing experience."

The pupil's award includes the largest prize yet of €7,500, the BTYSTE perpetual trophy and an exclusive trip to Bletchley Park in England, the famous World War II coding centre.

In addition, Simon will have the opportunity to represent Ireland at the EU Contest for Young Scientists, taking place in the RDS, Dublin, in September.

The individual runner-up award was presented to transition year student Claire Gregg (16), from Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin, for her project entitled 'An analysis of the housing shortage in Ireland using agent-based modelling'.

It was another awe-inspiring year at the RDS in Dublin with judges given the task of poring over 550 projects.

Education Minister Richard Bruton was on hand to present the winner with his trophy.

"It's fantastic to see so many young people engaged and inspired by the Stem [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] subjects and their application to real world problems," he said.

"We've recently launched our Stem strategy which aims to give more formal recognition to students' participation in initiatives such as this."

The award for group winner went to fifth-year students from St Brendan's College, Killarney, Co Kerry, James Knoblauch, Harry Knoblauch and Oran O'Donoghue, all aged 16. They won for their project, 'An investigation into conformity and how minorities influence it'.

The group runners-up award was presented to transition year students Darragh Twomey, Neil O'Leary and Andrew Heffernan, from Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk, Co Cork, for their project 'Feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050'.

Irish Independent

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