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Green Tea Health Benefits Win TuKoKe Prize

TuKoKe is a competition aiming to inspire children and youth in science and engineering activities. By giving participants the chance to get feedback on their scientific work and meet other like-minded young people, it opens a world of endless opportunities. We had the chance to interview one of this year’s winners, Meija Xu, and ask about her research on health and green tea.

Image: Frans Schouwenburg

The competition is open for anyone under the age of 20, separated into three categories: pre- and primary schoolers, students in grades 3 to 9, and finally an open category for other participants under 21 years of age. The participants are free to write their projects in Finnish, English or Swedish. The competition also has no subject boundaries, which has led to a widely diversified range of projects by applicants every year since 1993, going from a study on the origin of laughter, through the causes behind the northern lights to gaming comparisons between laptops and desktop computers.

Meija Xu entered the competition with her research work on the health benefits of green tea, investigating the effect of Camellia Sinensis on the growth of pro-biotic bacteria. Many discussions have been held on the topic, so this young aspiring medical researcher decided to take an interesting path and find the answers on her own! This path got her to win the TuKoKe prize. Her interview below:

Tell us a little about yourself

“Since I was a little kid, I had always been interested in medicine. Both of my parents have worked either in the field or associated with the field, but they never forced me into it. My passion for medicine and research came on its own as a young kid since I was always very intrigued about everything.”

How did you end up participating in TuKoKe?

“My biology teacher Marika Suutarinen suggested that I should submit my research paper into a competition aimed for young aspiring scientists in Finland. At the time I still didn’t know what TuKoKe was, but thought that I would give it a try since there was nothing to lose and I would be able to receive comments from professionals of the field and what they thought of my research and experimental conduct.”

What made you choose that particular field as your topic for TuKoKe work?

“I study in a program called International Baccalaureate (IB) and it has a requirement for its students to write a research paper in one of the subjects they study. Since I’ve always been interested in medicine and I am aiming to study it in the future as my career, I knew I wanted my research to have something to do with this field. I chose green tea as my main topic since I drink it daily and it is also deeply imbedded in my culture. Not only this, but green tea has always been at the top of conversation when it comes to health trends and foods and has even been rumoured to be able to prevent or cure cancer. I wanted to investigate whether this held true and if so, how.”

What did you think when you realized you won?

“I was very surprised and over the moon when I heard that I had won! It didn’t feel real to me at first since I hadn’t even imagined that I could win the competition, seeing how amazing other people’s works were. It was definitely a very positive surprise. “

How have your friends and family reacted to your winning?

Everyone has been very supportive and happy upon hearing the news. My parents especially were very ecstatic and friends have been even happier than I am. Overall I’m blessed to have had the support from my friends and family and appreciate them so much for sharing this with me!

How would you describe the experience of participating in TuKoKe?

“Participating in TuKoKe was one of the best experiences I’ve had regarding scientific endeavours. It was amazing to be able to talk about the research that I had spent a lot of time on and was personally invested upon and having people who wanted to learn and know more about what I had accomplished. The experience made me realize that I love interacting with people and what more – for science!”

Has there been any expected/unexpected consequences from your success in TuKoKe?

“Participating and let alone winning the competition really boosted my own self confidence and passion regarding the field of research and made me realize that this is definitely something I want to do in the future.”

How are you going to use the prize money?

“I actually haven’t put too much thought into how I am going to spend the prize money, but for now I’m going to place the money into savings until I find better use for it. Who knows, I might be able to take that trip to China and learn even more about green tea!”

What would you say to other youth about TuKoKe?

“Participate! Definitely participate! The experience alone was amazing and very educational to be able to interact and see what other young individuals had researched and accomplished. Even if your work does not get selected into the finale, every work gets a review and comments from a professional from the respective field and that alone is already a great initiation towards your work and how it should be further improved. Constructive criticism is definitely something to want!”

We will publish more on her actual research work soon! Meija is going to continue as Finland’s representative at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Brussels this coming September, we wish you the best!

For more info about the TuKoKe competition, visit the TuKoKe webpage!

Tawanda Brandon is a Millennium Youth Camp Alumni studying Computer Science at the University of Helsinki, interested in finding out the "science behind" modern myths, legends and pseudoscientific theories.