Columba College student earns prestigious Royal Society CREST Award

26 October 2017

Year 13 Columba College student, Corrie Anderson has earned a Royal Society Gold CREST award for her research into the native Horopito plant, making her the second student from the South Island to ever have achieved this accolade.    

CREST is an international awards scheme designed to encourage school students to be innovative, creative, and to problem solve in science, technology and environmental studies.

With five achievement levels in the programme, Gold CREST is the highest accolade, requiring students to expand their knowledge of specific techniques, language and analysis methods used in their area of research.  It is typically only attained by one or two students in the country each year.

Corrie started her CREST project in 2015 and examined the insecticidal and chemical properties of horopito, a plant known to many New Zealanders as the pepper tree due to the hot taste of its leaves. 

“The plant’s leaves have anti-fungal and insecticidal properties and fungi and insects generally don’t attack its leaves, meaning it has a long lifespan.” Corrie explained.

"My research looked at Horopito’s insecticidal properties, and I found it repels aphids. Although more tests are needed, there is evidence to suggest Horopito could be developed as a natural insecticide.”

Participating in the CREST programme has equipped Corrie with a variety of skills and she believes has given her more confidence in the fields of chemistry and biology.

“I decided to do CREST as it seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore and expand my knowledge of science. It lets you look at science beyond a high school standard to access and discover new scientific techniques.”

One of those techniques was the opportunity for Corrie to undertake her own column chromatography, a process to separate the different components of a chemical, using state of the art infrared technology in the University of Otago’s refurbished chemistry laboratories. 

Corrie is grateful to the support and resources provided by Columba College, especially her supervising teacher Dr Murray Vickers who has encouraged her throughout the project.

Next year Corries plans to study zoology and ecology at the University of Otago and she still sees plenty of scope for further Horopito research. 

“There’s so much that can still be investigated, like the difference between South and North Island Horopito, its effects on a variety of insects and plant types, and the most effective ways to store Horopito extract.