my capstone experience

Elisabeth Novak '08

Elisabeth Novak '08, a Biology major from Parkton, Md., discusses her senior Capstone project, which involved studying tea tree oil's effectiveness as an alternative anti-infective. The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience and part of the Liberal Education Program at Colby-Sawyer College. While at Colby-Sawyer, Elisabeth was a Wesson honors student, a member of Alpha Chi, and President of the Snowboarding Club. She plans to pursue a career in surgery.

Describe your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

My Capstone was titled "Tea Tree Oil as an Alternative Anti-infective.” Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil with innate antimicrobial properties. I looked at the broadband antimicrobial properties of TTO in its ability to be a commercial/household disinfectant for use on hard surfaces such as bathrooms. I compared the effectiveness of this natural oil to that of a chemical disinfectant. My test results showed that TTO oil is just as, if not more, effective than a chemical cleaner to disinfect surfaces. The difference is that TTO is generally harmless to humans when used or even ingested, while chemical cleaners are extremely toxic and even carcinogenic, in some cases. The interdisciplinary component I incorporated into my experiment was a cost analysis of the use of TTO versus a chemical cleaner. This analysis showed that TTO is generally more expensive to use than a chemical cleaner, but in the long run, your health is definitely worth it! I focused on this topic because I think the need to use homeopathic cleaners to protect your health is overlooked.

What research did you conduct for this project?

I conducted several types of research for my Capstone, which included reviewing scientific literature about the efficacy of TTO and its safety versus the efficacy and dangers of chemical cleaners. I also conducted tests using both treatments on cultured bacteria taken from test sites around campus to test their efficacy.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what way is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

My Capstone project solidified my knowledge of scientific research and many microbiology techniques. It definitely was a culmination of the many courses I took at Colby-Sawyer that instilled this knowledge in me.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

It was very rewarding to see all my efforts come together in a successful presentation of my research at the Scholars Symposium.

What did you find most challenging and difficult about the project?

The most challenging aspect of my Capstone was compiling and organizing the huge amount of information from my research and tests I conducted into a finished product.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

I hope that people will consider using alternative cleaners in the home in order to protect their health after reviewing my research.