Go, Kiara!

It’s so inspiring to read about someone who has an idea and figures out how to make it work. Whether it’s the dogged persistence of the Wright brothers (David McCullough’s book offers remarkable insight into this process), or the brilliant science experiments of 16-year-old Kiara Nirghin, I find this kind of vision fascinating.

Kiara is a Grade 11 student in Johannesburg, South Africa. Concerned about the country’s persistent drought, she was doing some online research on “how can you make the place where you’re living better” when she happened across the announcement of the Google Science Fair, open to youth ages 13 to 18.

Through her research, Kiara knew that agricultural land was often treated with super-absorbent polymers (SAPs) to help the soil retain water. But SAPs are typically expensive ($2,000-$3,000 per ton), not biodegradable, “and full of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals.”

The enterprising young woman decided there must be a better solution. There is: orange peels. In her experiments, Kiara cooked, chopped, and dried orange peels and avocado skins until she had a thick, gel-like substance. She tested it on plants and compared its water retention qualities against chemical SAPs. She estimates her natural polymer can be produced for $30-$60 per metric ton.

With photographs and meticulous record-keeping, Kiara entered her experiment in the Google Science Fair and won the grand prize: a $50,000 scholarship. After her win, she said she hopes not only that her product will help farmers deal with the drought, but also she wants “to be an inspiration” to other students.

Kiara, you’re an inspiration to us all!

If you’re interested, have a look at Kiara Nirghin’s Google Science Fair submission.

Joyce Rey
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