South African Kiara Nirghin won the 2016 grand prize for the annual Google Community Impact Science Fair prize for young people.
Nirghin, 16, beat competition from around the world to win the grand prize of $50,000 for her research project, entitled, “Combating Drought with a Low-Cost, Biodegradable Super-Absorbent Polymer Made Out of Orange Peels,’ according to the BBC.
Nirghin’s work developed a cheap super-absorbent material that can help soil retain water.
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A super-absorbent polymer (SAP) is a material that can hold up to 300 times more than its own weight in liquid relative to its own mass. However, most super-absorbent materials on the market are expensive and non-biodegradable.
Nirghin’s work helped bridge this gap by developing a revolutionary approach that utilized orange peels that contain naturally occurring polymers in combination with avocado peels, which provide natural oils, and crosslinking the polymers naturally using a mixture of heat and UV light.
Ventures Africa reports that Nirghin’s revolutionary invention, which she titled “No More Thirsty Crops,” is expected to help tackle the effects of drought in her home country of South Africa.
Research and a love for the sciences apparently comes natural to Nirghin. “I have always had a great love for chemistry since I was young. I vividly remember at the age of 7 experimenting with vinegar and baking soda solutions in plastic cups. My natural curiosity and questioning nature has sparked my everlasting love of science.”
Nirghin is quoted as saying in her research report, “I sought to create a product that can improve soil quality, preserve water, and resist drought, therefore producing a better environment for crops to grow.
“With the use of the orange peel SAP, in agricultural drought disaster areas, food security could increase by 73 percent.”
South Africa is currently going through its worst drought in 35 years, with more than 2.7 million households facing water shortages across the country. There are also increased job cuts in the agricultural sector as farmers sell off their land due to a lack of access to funds.
It is hoped that Nirghin’s invention will be applied in drought-stricken areas in South Africa…and the the world.