Save yucky avo peels for drought fighter Kiara

31 July 2016 - 02:00 By TASCHICA PILLAY

A Johannesburg teenager's plan to use orange and avocado peels in agriculture could offer a solution for drought-stricken farmers and it has won her a finalist spot in a global Google competition. Kiara Nirghin, 16, a Grade 11 pupil at St Martin's School, has developed a natural super-absorbent polymer that allows soil to retain massive amounts of water.Her research won her the Africa regional Google Science Fair Community Impact Award and R14,000 in prize money. The competition honours five projects that make a practical difference to communities by addressing environmental, health or resources challenges.story_article_left1To help develop the project, Kiara gets $1,000 (about R14,000) in an educational scholarship and a year-long mentorship from a Google Science Fair partner organisation.She will also attend the global finalist event at Google headquarters in California in September.Kiara, of Meyersdal in Johannesburg, said she had been researching something for school when she came across the competition on the internet."Google always looks for people to innovate and help improve the country they live in. We are experiencing a drought and I thought it was something we should address," said Kiara.She studied the idea for about two months."It entailed a lot of research. I entered it because I thought it was a good idea, and so did my family. I didn't expect everybody to be so impressed by it."During her research she found that most citrus fruit contained naturally occurring polymers.Orange peels contain 64% of polysaccharides, making it a candidate as a biodegradable polymer.block_quotes_start I have always been interested in how things work and how they were made. At that age I played around with vinegar and baking soda and made volcanoes block_quotes_endKiara experimented with ultraviolet light and heat and added natural oil found in avocado peels to boiled orange peels. After 45 days, her experiments showed that the mixture could absorb 76.1% of water, supporting her hypothesis that it could increase soil moisture.Chemical absorbents are not biodegradable and sell at around R28,000 a ton. Kiara's orange peel and avocado mix could be produced at R848 a ton.story-article_right2Other innovations from regional winners from around the world were an eco-friendly method for increasing blast and impact resistance of reinforced concrete buildings, transforming polluted water into drinking water and using carbon-coated seashells for the filtration of lead-contaminated water.Kiara said she wanted to study science addressing South Africa's food security and sustainable agricultural development.She would also like to work on a dye for animal skins.The idea is to put the dye on an animal's skin and on rhino horns and when the animals are poached and their body temperature drops the dye stains the skin and horn, rendering it useless for poachers.Her interest in science and chemistry had developed since she was five."I have always been interested in how things work and how they were made."At that age I played around with vinegar and baking soda and made volcanoes with my brother and sister."

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