Heralding a history-making moment at QAHS, we are delighted to be able to inform our community of our first published student researcher. Congratulations to Gihansa Kottasha Vidhanelage (Class of 2021) for the publication of her Extended Essay (EE) research in Biology. Published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, Volume 5, and titled “Myrtaceaes as antimicrobial agents against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa", Gihansa's research explored the antimicrobial properties of the Myrtaceae family. With anti-microbial resistance causing more than 700 000 deaths annually, a figure predicted to grow to 10 million by 2050, Gihansa's research contributes to potentially revolutionary drug development for more effective antimicrobial drugs.
Under the guidance of her EE Supervisor and Teacher of Biology, Mrs Melissa Mitchell, Gihansa has reworked 14 versions of her EE submission to become published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators. An inspirational example of a knowledgeable inquirer showing persistence and drive in her research.
Gihansa shares a reflection on her journey from Extended Essay to published researcher:
My Extended Essay journey has been longer than most. In a way, it started back in January 2020 when I had the opportunity to do an internship at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute after winning the High School Cancer Competition in Year 10. The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is one of the world's leading cancer research centres and although the research I observed was far beyond anything I could comprehend; it was that experience that introduced me to the idea of alternate sources of active ingredients in drug development.
This idea became the first version of my research question- emphasis on the word first because my final research question didn't even remotely resemble my original one. Amid the COVID pandemic, there were a lot of unknowns about how practical experimentation would occur, in my case, it was more so a concern because there was no way I could do the research I wanted at school. By all means, doing an EE in a different subject would have been the safer option, that way I could do it without worrying about where or when, or even how I was supposed to get data. When I submitted my first proposal it was filled with more unknowns than a sure plan. After weeks of reading journal articles, I finally decided to investigate Myrtaceae species. Eucalyptus and Melaleuca are two famous genera that originate from the plantae family that is Myrtaceae. For a select few Eucalyptus and Melaleuca species, there is substantial research, but the remainder of the family has little to no research on it.
I was matched with a professor at Griffith University who specialised in this type of research, and I went into the summer holidays of Year 11 knowing only two things, I was somehow testing these species on cancer cells. The teachers emphasised how the summer holidays were essential to the success of our EEs, and they were very much correct, but being a science EE student comes with the disadvantage of not being able to finish your EE in those very important summer holidays. The science EE students spend those summer holidays reading dozens of journal articles in hopes of creating a workable methodology, and when I say it is difficult that is an understatement. Half of the time you can barely understand what the technique was, let alone adapt it for your investigation. I struggled a lot, especially because I didn't even know what cells I would have access to, it was pretty apparent that cancer research was not meant to be conducted by high school students.
On top of my methodology, I also had the issue of finding my flowers, so I spent 3 weeks in the middle of December walking or driving around to find Myrtaceae species. After that, I spent another week just sorting through several kilograms of flowers, and my house was filled with trays and trays of flowers for the remainder of the summer holiday. The flowers had to be air-dried, and the pollen was making all my families hay fever very difficult to deal with but argued such inconveniences were necessary side effects of scientific research. Regardless of my over-preparedness, science never follows plans. There I was, 2 weeks before I was meant to start experimentation, without a supervisor because the professor I did have got stuck overseas and a methodology that I couldn't possibly do in school. At this point, I was panicking, because even the other science students were starting experimentation and I was at square one. In the span of two weeks, I completely changed my research question, methodology, supervisor, and proposal. I had no faith that my new and very rushed methodology would work, but with the guidance of Dr. Tony Carroll who became my Gold CREST supervisor, I managed to develop a practical methodology.
I planned to use the high resistance of multi-drug resistant bacteria to simulate cancer cells but it was only after weeks of lab work and my results coming in that I realised the implications of my research on antimicrobial resistance. One of my crude extracts inhibited nearly 90% of bacteria at a concentration of 0.04 mg/mL. It, like my other extracts were highly effective, and there was basically no research on it. After writing my essay four or five times to fit it into the 4000-word count, I submitted an essay I was happy with.
This is where most students' EE journey ends, but for me, my EE was always much more than a compulsory part of the IB core. The logical next step was publication but getting original research published while still in school was easier said than done and I received more than enough rejection letters. I finally found the Journal of Emerging Investigators but even then, the publication process was harder than I ever imagined. Despite this, it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Working with different professors and researchers with each edit brought my attention to elements of scientific research that I had never even thought about.
It was a very long process, after 14 versions of my EE, I finally made it to publication, bringing my EE to an end after nearly 2 years. I want to thank all the teachers who helped me so much even after I graduated, especially Mrs. Mitchell, who spent countless afternoons with me in the Griffith labs and helped me through every step of my publication journey. I have learnt a lot from the experience as a whole and if I had to give any advice to the Year 11s who are just starting their EE journeys or the Year 10s who will soon start thinking about it, choose a topic that genuinely interests you because writing an EE is not easy by any means. Without a passion for the topic you are researching it becomes very difficult, and more than that it is a wasted opportunity. Most of all, take the opportunity you have been given, explore something that has real-world implications and use all the resources around you because the EE can be something much greater than a compulsory piece of assessment.
Click here for access to Gihansa's complete article.
Science Teaching Faculty: Biology & CAS Coordinator