Microbiology: a budding researcher creates a stir with her LIST-supported project!

Published on 27/07/2016

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) congratulates Camilla Hurst, a young Luxembourg student from the European School on winning the Charpak medal (the Nobel Prize in Physics 1992) on Friday 15 July, during her participation at the Expo-Sciences Europe in Toulouse (FR).

 Winner of the Jonk Fuerscher National Competition in 2015 and 2016, Camilla was recognised by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology: she was awarded the Charpak medal in recognition of her project "What do we bring home from school?" on which the 15-year-old student had been working for two years. She examined the presence of bacteria in her school, population density and type. Supported by LIST experts, Camilla identified the DNA of an unknown bacterium, probably discovering a new strain! She also developed protocols designed to reduce the number of bacteria in public places and their spread.

Zoom in on this very rewarding experience

Launched in late 2014, the aim of this collaboration with LIST was to identify what kind of microorganisms, potentially harmful to health, can be detected on a wide variety of different surfaces in a public space such as a high school, touched by dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of people every day.

This team work has made it possible to show that toilets are not the most contaminated place, but rather the handrails of staircases, classroom tables and libraries, as well as basketballs in the sports hall, amongst other places. Dr Christian Penny, a LIST microbiology expert supported Camilla through her project and together they have discovered numerous harmless, shared bacteria, on our skin, the floor and surfaces; as well as some bacteria typically found on teenagers, such as the acne-causing bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) or odours typically found in change rooms. Apart from the majority of harmless, widespread bacteria, some infectious bacteria have also been discovered which highlights a certain lack of hygiene: bacteria causing cystitis, meningitis and genital infections. A survey conducted among students has further shown that washing their hands regularly with soap, especially after a trip to the toilet, is not customary for many young people.

In the second part of her broad project, Camilla investigated how microorganisms are transferred from surface to surface and person to person. She also studied the antimicrobial properties of some everyday materials such as wood, copper and plastic to demonstrate that pine and copper have some interesting properties leading to a rapid decline in surface microorganisms.

Results that hit the nail on the head!

These studies have also led to several awards, including first prize in the Jonk Fuerscher 2015 & 2016 Competitions; participation in competitions, conferences and international exhibitions, including trips to Toulouse (Expo-Sciences Europe), Shanghai (China Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation Contest - CASTIC) as well as exposure in the recent magazine "PISA - de Wëssensmagazin" on  RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg.

Camilla's project has also been praised by the French public and made a deep impression on the competition jury who praised her "rigour and depth of her research, as well as her commitment to serving the common good, representative of the Charpak spirit". It is to be noted that since 2010, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine has only awarded nine Charpak medals, acknowledging in this way promising young researchers in order to support them on their journey. It is therefore a very prestigious distinction, and an honour for Luxembourg.

Once again, we extend our congratulations to this budding researcher who has already achieved great things!


>> Looking for ways to participate in the next Jonk Fuerscher Competition? Visit jonk-fuerscher.lu!

>> For more information about LIST activities in the environmental domain, visit our department's page « Environmental Research and Innovation » (ERIN)

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Dr Christian PENNY
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