South African Girl Will Fight Drought Using Orange Peels
A 16-year-old schoolgirl from Johannesburg, South Africa has invented a super material that will fight drought.
Kiara Nirghin's "No More Thirsty Crops" project has recently won the Google Science Fair's Community Impact Award for the Middle East and Africa.
Nirghin's project involved a super-absorbent polymer (SAP) that could store reserves of water a hundred times its own weight. The polymer is made of orange peels and avocado skins, which make the material a sustainable solution as it makes use of recycled and biodegradable wastes. The polymer will help create reservoirs of water that farmers could use in maintaining their crops.
"Kiara found an ideal material that won't hurt the budget in simple orange peel," Andrea Cohan, program leader for the Google Science Fair, told CNN. "And through her research, she created a way to turn it into soil-ready water storage with help from the avocado."
South Africa's drought crisis in 2015 was the country's worst. Eight provinces had been reportedly in a state of disaster, with millions affected by water shortages. The crisis had prompted the young inventor to think of a cost-efficient solution to battle the country's drought problem.
"I wanted to minimize the effect that drought has on the community and the main thing it affects is the crops," Nirghin said in a report by CNN. "That was the springboard for the idea."
Nirghin researched about super absorbent polymers and found that the material contains chain molecule polysaccharides. She discovered that orange peel is composed of 64 percent polysaccharide, as well as the gelling agent pectin. Nirghin combined the orange peel with oily avocado peel and dried the mixture in the sun. The mixture undergoes a reaction and forms into an absorbent polymer.
Nirghin will be assigned a mentor from Google to help her develop the project, and eventually be tested on the field. She and other regional winners will be vying for a position in Google's 16 global finalists.