Teen Wins Google Prize for help­ing Fight The Droughts

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A16-year-old South African school­girl has won the grand prize at Google’s science fair for us­ing or­ange peel to de­velop a cheap su­per-ab­sorbent ma­te­rial to help soil re­tain wa­ter. Kiara Nirghin beat stu­dents from around the world for a $50,000/£38,000 ($F101,363.03) schol­ar­ship with her “fight­ing drought with fruit” sub­mis­sion. Her work was in re­sponse to the re­cent drought that has hit South Africa .

The drought, the worst since 1982, led to crop fail­ures and an­i­mals dy­ing. Ms Nirghin, a stu­dent at the Angli­can Church-founded St Martin’s High School in the main city Jo­han­nes­burg, said three ex­per­i­ments over 45 days re­sulted in her com­ing up with the “or­ange peel mix­ture” as an al­ter­na­tive to ex­pen­sive and non-biodegrad­able su­per-ab­sorbent poly­mers (SAPs). It was made out of waste prod­ucts from the juice-man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, she said. These in­cluded mol­e­cules found in or­ange peels and nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring oils in av­o­cado skins.

“The prod­uct is fully biodegrad­able, low­cost and has bet­ter wa­ter re­tain­ing properties than com­mer­cial SAPs.”

“The only re­sources in­volved in the cre­ation of the ‘or­ange peel mix­ture’ were elec­tric­ity and time, no spe­cial equip­ment nor ma­te­ri­als were re­quired,” Ms Nirghin added in her on­line sub­mis­sion. The stu­dent, who was awarded the prize at the an­nual fair in Cal­i­for­nia, said she hoped it would help farm­ers save both money and their crops. The com­pe­ti­tion was open to chil­dren from the ages of 13 to 18.

Kiara Nirghin hopes that the re­sults of her ex­per­i­ment will ben­e­fit farm­ers.

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