SA Teen Shines At Google Science Fair With Orange Peels

While Most teenagers nowadays are occupied with software development, developing fancy dating mobile phone applications, among other things. Some spend a huge chunk of their time consuming these new IT products modded like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and a whole lot more applications created daily.

It is very rare to find innovative teens coming up with agricultural solutions, medical solutions to mention but these two. More interesting is finding teenage girls, considered to be most active on social networks, coming up with insightful researches meant to benefit the agro-driven African community.


By Kudakwashe Pembere

Did you know that a saying going like, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,”  can apply to orange peels we throw in trashcans, the streets and dumpsites? A 16-year-old South African schoolgirl walked away with the grand prize at the annual Google Science Fair, announced in Mountain View in the US, last week .

Kiara Nirghin recieved the top prize for using orange peel to develop a cheap super-absorbent material to help soil retain water.

The 16-year-old Grade 11 pupil attends St Martin’s School in Johannesburg. She worked on a project to alleviate drought in the country. Called “No More Thirsty Crops”, her solution uses orange and avocado peels.

Kiara beat students from around the world for a $50,000  scholarship with her “fighting drought with fruit” submission.

The competition was open to children from the ages of 13 to 18.

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 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).

These included molecules found in orange peels and naturally occurring oils in avocado skins.

Orange peels believed to assist farmers in maintaining soil moisture

Orange peels believed to assist farmers in maintaining soil moisture


“The product is fully biodegradable, low-cost 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.

Kiara created an absorbent polymer from orange and avocado peels that is able to act as a water retainer in soil. It won her the Google Science Fair Community Impact Award in the Africa/Middle East region earlier this year.

She described her invention as creating “mini reservoirs of water in the soil and plants will be able to have a water supply even through drought”. Kiara hopes her project improves food security and the standard of living of many people.

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.




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