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Australian Science Oscars

Soft coral. Photo: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum.

Marcus Strom, Eureka prize winner Paige Bebee reveals the intestinal value of the appendix, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 2015

At 15, Paige Bebee is helping to set the record straight about a widely held myth: that the human appendix is useless.

Paige, who is in year 9 at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar in Victoria, has shown that far from being an evolutionary hangover, the appendix plays a vital part in our digestive system. During periods of infection and diarrhoea, gut flora can be flushed out of the large intestine. In such cases, the appendix acts as a reservoir of the beneficial bacteria, helping the intestine to recover more rapidly after such illnesses.

In her award-winning video, she explains research that shows people without an appendix are four times more likely to have gut problems after diarrhoea.

The video, which stars her younger sister, Milla, also features a cheeky cameo by her grandfather, Nobel prize winner Professor Barry Marshall, who famously proved that peptic ulcers were not caused by stress or spicy foods but by bacterium. He did this by swallowing a culture from a petri dish containing the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.

Not quite yet a Nobel laureate herself, Paige’s video has nonetheless won the 2015 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Eureka science prize for high school students. Paige is somewhat of an early career high achiever. Last year, she won first prize at Trop Jr for her film, Chance.

The Sleek Geek Eureka science prize is named in honour of Karl Kruszelnicki and Adam Spencer. The prize recognises excellence in science communication, helping “people to learn something without even noticing”.

The Australian Museum’s Eureka Prizes were announced on Wednesday night at the Sydney Town Hall.

Dubbed “the Oscars for Australian science”, the 16 winners covered fields as varied as oyster farming, quantum computing and solar power innovation.

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