We’ve all heard of mother’s cure-alls — those heady concoctions that supposedly contain healing properties. But do they really work? That was the premise behind Esha ’20, Kush ’20, and Luv ’20 Kataria’s lab: “Antibiotic Capabilities of Household Items Against E. coli Bacteria,” an independent research lab the students conducted this summer at KO.
All three students gravitate towards the sciences. Esha enjoyed all the lab work associated with her AP science classes; Kush worked with nurses and doctors as a summer intern before his freshman year at Hartford Hospital; Luv finds it “cool to see how things around you work” and wants to understand everyday phenomenon.
“We knew we wanted to do some sort of research, but it took us a while to find out what we were interested in,” said Esha. “One of the ideas we came up with was ever since we were little, every time we were sick, our mom was always giving us garlic and honey to make us feel better. We thought it would be really interesting to explore the antibiotic capabilities of household items.”
Armed with the memories of their mother plying them with home-made balms, they decided to put their mom’s remedies to the test against ampicillin, an antibiotic, as the control. The other items included garlic oil, garlic juice, lemon juice, honey, and germX.
They approached Upper School Science Chair Fritz Goodman and Carolyn McKee about expanding their lab experience in the spring and discussed what was possible and what resources the school had. Mr. Goodman purchased the lab materials and provided reading materials so the Katarias would know how to incubate the bacteria (E.coli).
In a well-documented 31 step process, the young scientists prepared starter plates to produce more bacteria in the petri dishes and tested to see how the bacteria responded to the various substances. In the petri dishes containing ampicillin or garlic juice, there were rings around those two substances, void of bacteria.
“This experiment prepared us for how to do research in college. This is the first time we researched what we wanted to do without being restricted by time and the curriculum,” said Kush. The group was entirely independent and problem-solved their challenges as they arose.
Kush explained that the group collaborated, dividing the responsibilities because of the rigor in each step. “We had to sterilize and clean the tables all the time. It was a very tedious but necessary step,” said Kush.
Despite an early (and malodorous) pitfall of spilling the garlic oil in the lab, the Katarias learned a great deal from the experiment. They concluded in their lab report that garlic juice worked very well, almost as strong as the ampicillin, proving their mom was right. “It was cool to see it firsthand and see how effective it was,” said Luv. If they were to perform the lab again, they agreed they would adjust the concentration and viscosity of solutions so they are more similar to one another.
The students concurred that hands-on learning was invaluable. “We had to figure out things ourselves and really problem-solve,” Esha said. “In a lecture-style class, you can’t do that. We had a deeper understanding of the material we were working with. What does it mean to be an antibiotic? How do you do research?”
As bacteria continue to mutate, scientists need to develop different antibiotics to counter the threat. “That’s a cool problem to think about,” said Esha.
“People use more synthetic antibiotics,” Luv said. “We just proved that some natural ingredients are just as effective. Synthetics drugs have a lot of side effects. So why don’t you just use natural stuff?”