ST Dominic’s pupil Ava McGurk has returned from the United States after winning first prize in a prestigious competition which promotes learning in STEM subjects in schools.

Sitting down with the Andersonstown News, 14-year-old Ava, along with her science teacher James Geddis, and Bill Connor, Chief Executive of competition organisers Sentinus, talked about her research and her hopes of a future in scientific research.  

Ava’s research project on taste perception impressed judges and won first prize in Sentinus’ Think Big Competition, earning her the chance this month to attend the Broadcom International Masters in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ava outlined her project by saying: “It was using experimental psychology for a creative and holistic approach to taste perception, and combating obesity. I used different samples of jellies with different colours and flavours. Some jellies had flavours matched with the colour, others were mismatched, and some had flavour but no colour, and I researched how that affected people's taste perception.

Further to winning the Think Big Competition, Ava also won first prize in the Behavioural Sciences category by furthering her research in the BT Young Scientist Competition in 2021.

During her time in the US, Ava was in a group of international young scientists who were chosen for excellence in science, engineering and leadership and also attended the International Science and Engineering Fair, as well as seeing further career options.

During the trip Ava also had to give a presentation on a scientist from her own country, and she chose the late Professor Jim Dornan, father of actor Jamie Dornan, who was himself a renowned scientist and researcher in Obstetrics. For her presentation on Professor Dornan, Ava was also awarded first prize.

Speaking about her week in the States, Ava said: “It was incredible. I got to meet so many people I wouldn’t have got to meet otherwise. I got to experience so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise got to experience. It was great, and I want to thank Sentinus so much for giving me the opportunity, and I would encourage anyone else to just go for it. It’s so worth it and you meet so many new people and get so many new opportunities.”

Ava McGurk and Bill Connor of Sentinus

Ava McGurk and Bill Connor of Sentinus

Asked about her plans for the future, Ava said she would like to go to university in America, and is interested in going to Yale. 

“I’d like to still research in the psychology genre. I would either continue my research now and build on it for researching Long Covid, or start something completely new on intergenerational trauma.”

Bill Connor of Sentinus added that the charity would be hosting a new event on October 4 this year giving young people the chance to exhibit their science projects and will be offering the same opportunity Ava has had to go to the US and experience a chance to further their dreams of working in science.