Munster double at Young Scientist awards

It was a Munster one-two at the 54th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, with Simon Meehan from Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, Cork, scooping the top prize, and a group from St Brendan’s College in Killarney taking the group award.

A stunned-looking Simon, a 15-year-old transition year student, won the top award for his project, entitled ‘Investigation into the Antimicrobial effects of both aerial and root parts of selected plants against Staphylococcus aureus’.

In addition to receiving the perpetual trophy and a cheque for €7,500, he will represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, which will be held in Dublin in September. He also landed an exclusive trip to Bletchley Park in the UK, the Second World War code-breaking centre.

Speaking about the winning entry, BT Young Scientist judge and chairperson of the biological and ecological sciences category, John O’Halloran said: “This is a really exciting project, which explores the possibility of the blackberry leaf extract’s ability to control harmful bacteria. The unexpected findings deliver a unique approach to killing bacteria using natural plant active ingredients. The rigour of the approach adopted by Simon set his project apart from competitors and made him our overall winner.

“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.”

The individual runner-up award was presented to Claire Gregg, a 16-year-old transition year student at Loreto College in Dublin for her project, entitled ‘An Analysis of the Housing Shortage in Ireland using Agent-Based Modelling’.

Sophie Dempsey, left, and Maia Searle from St Michael’s School Navan, Co Meath, try out Coast Guard suits at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS. Picture: Sam Boal

The group winners were James Knoblauch, Harry Knoblauch, and Oran O’Donoghue, all aged 16 and fifth-year students at St Brendan’s College, Killarney, Co Kerry. They won for their project entitled ‘An Investigation into Conformity and How Minorities Influence It’, which, via two controlled psychology experiments, showed how one person can influence the behaviour of others, using a unique approach to studying group dynamics that focus on the influence of an individual within a group.

They pipped a trio of transition year students from Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk, Co Cork — Darragh Twomey, Neil O’Leary, and Andrew Heffernan. The runners-up had entered their project in the biological and ecological sciences category at intermediate level. Entitled ‘Feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050’, it involved treating barley with a strain of bacteria, which found it increased the yield of varieties of the crop.

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