Bananas are not just nutrient-rich but also help save the environment, proved 16-year-old Elif Bilgin who won the Scientific American Science in Action award at the Google Science Fair last year. She was also the winner of the Voter’s Choice Award. What Elif did was convert discarded banana peels into bio-plastic. She was awarded $50,000 for the Science in Action award and $10,000 through the Voter’s Choice Award. After 10 failed trials and two years of experimenting, Elif finally cracked the right way to create bio-plastic using banana peels. A student of the Koc High School in Istanbul, Turkey, Elif has given a full account of her findings in www.googlesciencefair.com.
She reveals that she started with a basic question in her mind ‘Can using banana peels to produce bio-plastic replace the development of petroleum plastic?’. She says “If plastic (a material with such great range of use in our daily lives) can be manufactured from banana peels (a material which is thrown away every day), then this plastic would become a rival to the petroleum-based plastic we use nowadays. The rival banana-plastic would provide the consumers of plastic with an alternate option and this would decrease the rate of pollution of the environment caused by use of petroleum-based plastic, thus, providing the generations to come with a planet worth living in.”
Banana peels were chosen in her research as they are rich in starch (which is one of the components needed to create bio-plastic). She supports her theory citing a report in the Thailand-based Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology’s report which says that the banana peel is rich in starch and a report in Packaging Bulletin Magazine’s 2009 January issue which claims that starch and cellulose are important raw materials used in the bio-plastic industry.
Elif’s trial entries on the website show that using simple lab tools at her school, her perserverance and hard work paid off during the ninth and 10th trial. Though they weren’t successful, they paved the way for the final trial run. Several technical results during her 12 experiments were deduced. These results helped her formulate the report for the Science Fair. Boiled banana peels were dipped into Sodium metabisulfite for producing the plastic. Hydrogen chloride, Sodium hydroxide and Glycerol (propane-1,2,3-triol) were also used. After baking it for half an hour, Elif pulled the plastic from opposite sides to determine the strength of the plastic, the thickness was measured using a ruler and a daily inspection was made to determine the shelf life. These three criteria determined the quality of the product, essential for the experiment’s success.
A big admirer of Marie Curie, Elif wants to study medicine in the future, and says, “Winning this competition will bring me one large step closer to my dream of attending med school, as the prizes will help me fund my education as well as allow me to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But more importantly, winning will show me that I am on the right path to my future, and that science is my calling.”
Some ideas that were selected for this year’s Google Science Fair which was held yesterday (September 14) include — Sustainable Electricity Generation and Water Purification (Cynthia Sin Nga Lam, Australia); Rethink: Effectively Stopping Cyberbullying (Trisha Prabhu, US); Cleaning up Oil Sands Waste (Hayley Todesco, Canada) and Converting Breath to Speech for the Disabled (Arsh Dilbagi, India).