Fighting drought with fruit

South African schoolgirl Kiara Nirghin has won the grand prize at the Google Science Fair for developing a cheap super-absorbent material to help soil retain water. The Google’s science fair was open to children from the ages of 13 to 18.

Kiara used orange peel to develop this material that won her a $50,000 (R686 665,00) scholarship. Her work was in response to the recent drought that has hit South Africa, the worst since 1982.

Kiara, who is a student at the Anglican Church-founded St Martin’s High School in 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).

She said it was made out of waste products from the juice-manufacturing industry. These included molecules found in orange peels and naturally occurring oils in avocado skins.

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
Kiara Nirghin – Google’s science fair Submission.