A 16-year-old Indian-origin student has won the highest prize of scholarship worth US $50,000 at the annual Google science fair in the US. She has been awarded for using discarded food material such as orange peel and avocado fruits to develop a cheaper “super-absorbent material” that helps soil retain water.
The 16-year old Kiara Nirghin, a Grade 11 student of a South African School, submitted a project aimed at alleviating the severe drought that South Africa is suffering from. Kiara used orange peel to develop a cheap super- absorbent material to help soil retain water. Her solution to the problem of drought uses the peels from orange and avocado fruits, which were normally discarded.
Nirghin said that she had found an alternative in the fruit peels to super-absorbent polymers (SAPs) which absorb and carry about 300 times its weight in liquid relative to their own mass. “These SAPs are not biodegradable, costly and full of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals. During more research in the topic, I found that natural occurring polymers exist in most citrus fruits”, said the young Indian-origin researcher.
Nirghin also stated in her submission, in which she cited a renowned Indian scientist as her greatest inspiration. “MS Swaminathan, has always been an inspiration of mine as he truly believed in the necessary movement of not only India but the whole world towards sustainable agricultural development… I have always had a great love for chemistry since I was young. I vividly remember at the age of seven experimenting with vinegar and baking soda solutions in plastic cups”.
The Google science fair is a programme where budding scientists (between the ages of 13 to 18) are invited to solve the world's biggest challenges using science and technology.