Research Forum Features Work of 12-Year-Old

December 2009

By Nancy Calaway
ACEP News Contributing Writer


When Brendan O'Neil was choosing the topic 2 years ago for his fifth grade science project, his dad--an emergency physician--gave him a piece of advice.


"I suggested he do something that means something to him," said Dr. Brian O'Neil, an ACEP member. "He plays sports, and he said, 'Well, I wonder if those energy drinks really do anything.' "


Twelve-year-old Brendan heeded his dad's suggestion to follow his passion and ended up with an elementary school project that became a featured poster during ACEP's Research Forum in October.


"It's pretty exciting," he said, as about two dozen other presenters and members of the news media gathered around his poster, "#369--A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Energy Drinks on Exercise Performance, Dexterity, Reaction Time, and Vital Signs Before and After Exercise."


The research Brendan did for Everest Academy in Clarkston, Mich., ultimately has scientific value in the emergency medicine academic community. There was no published literature on the issue, so his father, an associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at Wayne State University, supervised the project with an eye to submitting it to Research Forum.


"There had been some tests about the effect of caffeine, like coffee, but not energy drinks," Brendan said. "And most of the people who drink energy drinks are my age or a little older."


Brendan enlisted a group of volunteers through Wayne State who would have a drink, complete sit-ups and push-ups, work on a peg board, and then play a video game. During the 2-year-long project, Dr. O'Neil worked with his son, along with two nurses, while Brendan's mother and his older sister, Christina, served as research assistants. His sister said she was excited that Brendan was getting so much media attention, which ranged from mentions in their local markets to coverage from CBS Evening News and on syndicated national radio.


Brendan felt good about the data and conclusion of his project--which ultimately found that energy drinks provided no difference. But he admitted he was a little nervous before his 5-minute presentation at Research Forum. Although he had practiced the day before his presentation, Brendan wasn't exactly sure what to expect when the conference would begin.


And the other Research Forum attendees were unsure about the young man with braces on his teeth and a yellow "Research Forum Presenter" ribbon fixed to his blue blazer.


When the presentation started, however, Brendan was as calm and articulate as a seasoned faculty member. Those watching the presentation started off with grins, appearing to be amused at the novelty of a 12-year-old presenter--but soon began listening intently and even posing questions to the young researcher.


No word yet on the subject of his next research project.

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