A TEENAGE bright spark has been named as one of the UK’s top young scientists.

Mhairi McCann, a sixth year pupil at St Columba’s High in Gourock, saw off competition from 200 finalists from across the country to achieve the prestigious runner-up prize for senior science at the Big Bang Competition in Birmingham.

It means the 17-year-old is rated one of the nation’s best young scientists for her age group.

Mhairi told the Tele: “I’m really happy to receive the runner-up prize.

“It puts me in the top four list for young scientists in my age group in the UK.

“I also won £250, so I’ll probably spend the money on something to further my science in some way.”

Mhairi, who is preparing to sit advanced Highers in maths, chemistry, physics and biology, said her path to national science stardom began last summer when she completed a research placement with the Nuffield Foundation at the University of the West Scotland.

With a keen interest in the environment, she was inspired to carry out a research project looking at the effects two pesticides have on the behaviour of amphipods — a type of marine, shrimp-like crustacean.

Mhairi said: “When tests are carried out on pesticides they just look at mortality, but just because something doesn’t die doesn’t mean it’s okay to use the substance.

“So I decided to look at two pesticides. With one it resulted in an increase in behaviour of the amphipod, which could indicate that it was trying to escape from an environment it doesn’t like.

“It’s the first time it has been done, so much more work would need to be carried out on it to reach any sort of conclusions.”

Mhairi, who lives in Inverkip, spent her summer holidays on the placement.

She compiled a 7,000 word report and a scientific poster, which was presented at a science event in Edinburgh, before travelling to St Anne’s College in Oxford for the Young Scientists Journal Conference.

The teenager applied for the Big Bang competition last November.

She said: “I didn’t expect anything because they had 1,200 entries online and they also held regional competitions.

“But I made it through as a finalist and travelled to Birmingham for the competition.”

Mhairi hopes to put her science skills to good use when she leaves school.

She said: “I would like to study veterinary medicine.”

Her chemistry teacher Claire Thomson said: “We are extremely proud of Mhairi. This is a fabulous achievement.”

Mhairi is keen to thank Mhairi Alexander and Richard Thacker who supervised her research project.