Cork's Young Scientist champ takes on the best in Europe

Cork's Young Scientist champ takes on the best in Europe
2018 BT Young Scientist and Technology winner, Simon Meehan, at his home in Ballinora.Picture: David Keane.

A CORK student has spoken of his joy at representing Ireland at a European-wide contest for young scientists today.

Ballinora native Simon Meehan claimed the overall prize at the national BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition earlier this year for his botany project.

This weekend, he is competing against top young scientists from all over Europe in Dublin.

Simon’s love for plant life was instilled in him from a young age, inspired by his botanist grandfather.

His project was an investigation to see if locally sourced plants such as blackberries contained chemicals that could potentially be used to control bacterial growth.

He discovered that chemicals in blackberry leaves could be used to discourage the growth of the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, best known for MRSA, a strain of infection which can be resistant to antibiotics.

He will present his research at this weekend’s exhibition in Dublin, where he said he is looking forward to representing Ireland.

“It will be a fantastic weekend.

“I’m looking forward to representing Ireland but also my home Ballinora, my primary school, secondary school parents and teachers,” he added.

“I really couldn’t have done it without them, they’ve been a huge support.”

Since his discovery and success, 2018 has been a whirlwind for Simon.

“It’s been a very busy time,” he said.

“I’ve been working on the research and also doing a small bit of research with DCU as well.

“It’s just been a great year, very busy but I’ve enjoyed it and had some fantastic opportunities,” he added.

The European Union Contest for Young Scientists, set up in 1989, is the annual showcase of the best of European student scientific achievement.

While Simon hopes his findings can make an impression this weekend, he added that he is looking forward to meeting other young scientists from across Europe.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet people who have different opinions on science and to see their research and projects,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to what should be a great weekend.

“I hope my own research will start a few conversations as well,” he added.

“It will be a fantastic experience.”

Simon hopes to one day follow in his mother, who is a microbiologist, into science. Some have been quick to say that her influence may have given Simon an unfair advantage. However, the Ballinora teenager defends the assistance.

“People might say I had an unfair advantage but while I got some assistance, I also had to put in the work to learn all about antimicrobial tests,” he said.

“My mother showed me how to do this, how to grow bacteria, pour agar, the nutrient that bacteria live on, but this was all something I had to learn. I had to put a lot of work in to get it right.”

While Simon has been pursuing his research throughout the summer holidays, he admitted it may need to take a backseat as he begins his Leaving Cert studies.

“I understand that the Leaving Cert is very important for the next stage of my career so my research will probably have to be put on hold until after it,” he said.

“Although there will always be a longing to get back to it,” laughed Simon.

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