Cork teenager Simon Meehan returned to school on Monday to a raucous welcome and a presentation in his honour after the Coláiste Choilm student claimed the overall prize at the BT Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition last Friday evening.
Simon and his project, potentially a cure for MRSA, took home the main prize after he discovered the presence of chemicals within the blackberry plant which could form antibiotics to combat the MRSA infection.
“It’s been amazing, I’ve never got such a welcome before,” said Simon as he witnessed the fanfare in the school on Monday.
“When it was announced, I couldn’t believe it and it’s been a big celebration ever since.” “It was magical,” said Colaiste Choilm principal Michelle Slyne, who attended Friday’s award ceremony.
“The butterflies started early in the afternoon when we saw the amount of attention the project was getting from the judges and from then we just had our fingers and toes crossed.
“When the moment itself happened, it was amazing,” she added.
Simon’s love for plant life was instilled in him from a young age, inspired by his botanist grandfather.
His project, entitled an ‘Investigation into the antimicrobial effects of both aerial and root parts of selected plants against Staphylococcus aureus’, was an investigation to see if locally sourced plants such as blackberries contained chemicals that could potentially be used to control bacterial growth.
Simon discovered that chemicals present 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.
“No, I never expected that I just wanted to know the effect of it on certain bacteria but to discover that is just fantastic,” he said.
“I hope for this latest discovery to be able to help or relieve the pressure on cystic fibrosis patients and patients with MRSA in the very near future.”
Simon is planning to embark on a career in pharmaceutical science after he completes his education.
“You don’t meet a student like Simon everyday,” said science teacher Karina Lyne.
“When we started the projects last year, some students had ideas and some students were saying no, have you any ideas,” she laughed.
“But Simon had his idea which he’d been working on for a while and when he said what the title was, I knew it would be great.
“He kept working on it, exploring new avenues, getting in contact with analytical chemistry in UCC and the results were amazing,” she added.
Over 34 students from Colaiste Choilm took part in this year’s competition with 15 separate projects, a credit to the school according to Ms Sliney.
“The whole school has been also excited since it was announced on Friday night,” said Ms Sliney.
“In fact, we’ve had texts from past pupils, teachers congratulating Simon and the school and the whole of Ballincollig and Ballinora is just alive at the excitement of it all.
“They’re all part of the story, they had fantastic projects themselves and they played a huge part in supporting Simon and being his biggest fans.”