Young Scientist winner defended amid accusations of outside help

Simon Meehan (15) won for landmark study on plants growing in his Co Cork back garden

Overall winner of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is Simon Meehan of Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork. His work investigated the use of plants such as blackberries to fight potentially deadly bacteria. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

The organisers of the 2018 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition have strongly defended research conducted by this year’s winner and rejected suggestions he benefited unfairly from external assistance.

Simon Meehan (15), a transition year student at Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, won this year’s contest for a two-year study he undertook on plants growing in his back garden in Co Cork.

He extracted and identified natural antibiotics that could be effective in treating bugs that cause human infection, particularly MRSA. The most effective agent, he discovered, was found in a blackberry bramble.

The organisers of the competition on Monday responded to controversy about the outcome which emerged online over the weekend, including posts on Twitter suggesting the competition is “un-winnable by any regular teenager”, references to help he received from a chemistry lecturer at UCC and the fact that his mother is a microbiologist.

The organisers outlined the extent of the judging process and confirmed that the winner had fully acknowledged the assistance he received.

“Simon’s project was reviewed during five separate judging rounds. His work was reviewed by over 10 judges, in a cross-disciplinary approach,” they said.

Full Results: BTYSTE 2018

“The judges were aware that he had access to facilities in a third level institution as many of our participants do due to lack of some necessary equipment in their own school labs.

“The judges, through their rigorous questioning, were happy that the work and research had been undertaken by Simon, and that any assistance he received was acknowledged in his report book as is required by the BTYSTE exhibition rules.”

The organisers pointed out that the BTYSTE website contains detailed guidance for young people aged between 12 and 19 who want to enter the contest.

In a series of interviews before, during the awards ceremony on Friday, and since, Simon Meehan repeatedly thanked his grandfather, Eddie Lucey, a well-known herbalist from Bandon; his science teacher, Karina Lyne; his mother Dr Brigid Lucey and UCC for assistance in conducting his research.

Prof John O’Halloran, a BTYSTE judge and chair of the biological and ecological sciences category, on Friday said the winning project was “really exciting”.

“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.”

In an interview with The Irish Times, prior to being declared the overall winner, Simon Meehan said the significance of the work he had undertaken was in his view so great that he hoped to patent it.

“He has worked quite tirelessly for quite a long time on the project and he will continue to work on it irrespective of winning the prize,” his mother, a microbiology lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology, said after he won.

Among more advanced projects conducted by entrants this year, there was frequent citation and acknowledgment of help received in various forms from third level institutions in Ireland and abroad.

Simon Meehan returned to his school on Monday morning and his victory was warmly acknowledged in a ceremony attended by pupils and staff.