What’s a Scientist?

BlackberryMeet Simon Meehan, an engaging 15-year old high school student from County Cork, Ireland, who was just awarded the top prize at the prestigious BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, beating out 1,100 students involved in some 550 projects.

Simon’s interest is in how we can use common plants to treat antibiotic-resistant infections driven by ubiquitous bugs such as Staphylococcus aureus, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

His project is called “Investigation of the antimicrobial effects of both aerial [leaf] and root parts of selected plants against Staphylococcus aureus.” It looked at 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. In the end, he found two plants that did the trick, leaf and fruit extracts from the common blackberry plant (pictured), and a root extract from Mare’s tail. In Simon’s words:

My major conclusion is that I have found an organic non-toxic and locally abundant herb that has antioxidant and antimicrobial effect against MRSA … Staphylococcus aureus, and also Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a potentially deadly bug, especially for those with cystic fibrosis.

I have found an antibiotic that is organic, non-toxic and antimicrobial. And this is in the blackberry of all plants. I mean, you hear of people going to the Amazonian Rainforest, whereas [I] found something outside [my] back door. And I feel, without disrespecting the scientific community too much, there should be some conclusion drawn from this – that we are over-thinking science in too many ways.


Not content to leave it there, Simon wants to extend his research by testing the plant extracts on other bacteria. And he also wants to explore his curious finding that there was “a major difference” in the effectiveness of the blackberry plant depending on the time of year he picked it, June versus August.

Because of Simon’s youthfulness we might conclude that he will be a future force in science. But given what his rigorous research has already uncovered and the further work he has planned, we may want to think about his observation in the video below:

“Science appears to be seen in a much more sophisticated way than necessary. And I feel that we don’t sometimes see what is right in front of our eyes.” (Italics added.)

Mr. Simon Meehan is now waiting on a patent for his extraction method for the blackberry bush that could lead to its widespread use as an antibiotic.


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