Kiara Nirghin, a 16-year-old school girl from South Africa, is the recipient of this year’s Google Science Prize. Her scientific innovation aimed at combating drought in her native South Africa was adjudged to be the winner of the Google Science Fair.
A 11-grade student at St. Martin's High School in Johannesburg, Kiara’s innovative project, titled ‘Fighting drought with fruit’, aimed to combatting drought through retaining soil moisture by recycling waste peels from the orange juice manufacturing industry.
She used the orange peels to develop a cheap super-absorbent material to help retain water in soil. The innovation comes at a critical time when southern Africa is struggling from a drought brought about by the El Nino climatic condition.
The young scientist conducted experiments that spanned couple of months to test water absorption abilities of orange peel, resulting soil moisture and growth of a plant. She finally came up with an ‘orange peel mixture’ that could absorb 76.1 percent of water, which was significantly greater than other chemical Superabsorbent polymers (SAP) such as acrylic SAP, starch SAP and pectin SAP. Also, the holy basil plant she grew had more flowers grew to a healthier height and had a healthier appearance that other plants grown in other SAP material.
In her submission to the Google Science Fair, Kaira hoped to apply her solution on fields in South Africa as a means of helping farmers to save money and also save their crops. The Google Science Fair competition is open to young people between the ages of 13 to18; Kaira who beat peers from around the world was awarded a scholarship worth $50,000. Accepting the prize, Kiara thanked her school teachers for their guidance to the project and her parents, Bob and Rekha Nirghin, for their unstinted support and encouraging her curiosity throughout her life.