Teen invents plastic from banana peels, wins Google Science Fair top prize

A 16-year-old girl from Turkey bagged the Science in Action award at the Google Science Fair for making environmentally friendly bioplastic—out of banana peels.

Elif Bilgin, of Istanbul, won $50,000 for her project that promises to help address environmental, health or resources challenges.

"My project is about using banana peels in the production of bio-plastic as a replacement of the traditional petroleum based plastic. In this project, I developed a method for making plastic by using banana peels and found new areas for the use of the plastic that I manufactured: using the bio-plastic in the making of cosmetic prosthesis and in the insulation of cables," Bilgin said.

She said she worked on her project for two years, with the goal of making plastic that can actually be used in daily life.

Bilgin, who attends Koc High School and "love(s) doing scientific research," noted the bio-plastic is such a new concept with a widening range of uses.

"The bio-plastic is a material which has the potential of causing a biological reform by means of reducing the amount of pollution caused by other plastic materials which contain petroleum derivatives. Apart from this, the bio-plastic industry’s newness creates room for further development of the bio-plastics manufactured so far," she said.

Success after trial and error

Scientific American said Bilgin had endured 10 failed trials of plastics that "weren’t strong enough or that decayed rapidly," but was undaunted.

"We admire her persistence, which will be help her to take advantage of another aspect of her Science in Action prize—a year’s worth of mentoring to help further her work. I like to think, too, that Edison, who used to stop by the Scientific American offices in New York City to demonstrate his latest inventions, would have approved," it said.

Bilgin is also a finalist in the overall Google Science Fair for the 15-16-year-old category.

She will fly along with the other 14 contenders to Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus for the awards event in September.

Another Science in Action finalist, Ann Makosinski, 16, from Canada, created a flashlight that runs solely on the heat of the human hand.

The schools of the Google Science Fair finalists will receive digital subscriptions to Scientific American as part of their prize.

Inspired by Marie Curie

Bilgin said physicist-chemist Marie Curie has been a major inspiration and admiration of hers, "being a female scientist who devoted her life to her study of radioactivity; challenging gender norms along the way."

She said she wishes to study medicine in the US, at a college which offers the best education to its students.

"Winning this competition will bring me one large step closer to my dream of attending Med School, since the prizes will help me fund my education as well as allowing me to have an once-in-a-lifetime experience. But more importantly, winning will show me that I am in the right path to my future, and science is my calling," she said.

In an interview with Scientific American, she said she would choose James D. Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins if asked who she choose, if she could have dinner with any three scientists throughout time.

She also said the most revolutionary invention of the past 100 years was the World Wide Web, "simply because it allows information, ideas and thoughts to be shared across the globe within seconds."

Also, she said the most revolutionary invention of the past 10 years is the iPhone, which she said was the first smartphone that can shoot videos, take photos, access the Internet, allow communication, store music and also navigate–all at the same time.

Going back in time

While she said she would not want to go back in time lest she disrupt the “space-time continuum,” she would not mind going back to introduce a treatment for cholera, a disease that has killed thousands of people since its first cases in 1817. — TJD, GMA News

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