Australian Teenage Girl Invents A Plastic Alternative From Shrimp Shells And Silk Cocoon

Australian Teenage Girl Invents A Plastic Alternative From Shrimp Shells And Silk Cocoon

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear lab coats and science goggles.

The world’s plastic situation can make environmentally conscious people feel quite small and helpless. In the reality of the outrageous figures and statistics running into billions of tons of toxic waste every year, one can only wonder how meaningful their little efforts could ever be. [1] However, no matter how overwhelming it gets, we must never give up on our little contributions. For every coffee cup recycled and every time we choose cardboard bags over nylon, we are saving the environment from a little less damage.

In 2018, a 16-year-old Australian teenager, Angelina Aurora, was inspired to contribute to the fight by coming up with an alternative solution to plastic bags. Aurora is a student at Sydney Girls High School and she won the science fair that year after inventing a biodegradable plastic bag using a component from prawn shells and a protein from silk cocoon. [2]

Aurora, a huge fan of science, had gone to a local supermarket with her mom and the cashier charged them for plastic bags. Intrigued, the young girl asked why they had to pay for the bags, and the guy explained that it was a policy intended to deter people from opting for plastic. That encounter opened Aurora’s eyes to how critical and alarming the world’s plastic situation truly is. Of course, never the regular teenager to fold her hands and do nothing, Aurora had to make a solid move.

Saving the planet from her science lab

Aurora’s project concept was simple: to create a product that would serve as efficiently as plastic but decompose faster. She experimented with various raw materials including banana peels and organic waste, and when everything failed, her light at the tunnel came through. Aurora discovered the similarities between plastic and shrimp shells and her project took another turn.

I looked at prawns and thought what makes their shells look like plastic? Maybe I can take that out and use it someway and bind it to make a plastic-like material,” Aurora explained to National Geographic.

“I extracted a carbohydrate called chitin and chemically converted it into chitosan and mixed it with fibroin, which is a protein in silk cocoons.”

Aurora combined the materials and invented a product similar to plastic but decomposes 1.5 million times faster and will be completely broken down in 33 days. 

International recognition

Her invention has deservedly brought her to some of the prestigious stages in the world to receive awards. Aurora came out 4th place in the world as she received the Engineering Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She contested against students from over 81 countries and won a scholarship to an excellent university in the U.S. In 2018, the young girl won the Innovator to Market Award at the BHP Billiton Foundation Science.

CSIRO’s Chief Executive Larry Marshall said of Aurora’s remarkable performance: “The world is changing faster than many of us can keep up with, but science, technology, engineering, and maths can guide that future through innovation. We know that the achievements of the winners and finalists will inspire other students to become innovators solving the big challenges that face our world.” [3]

Aurora explains that despite the magnitude of the plastic problem the entire world is faced with, we can all continue to make small contributions.

Everyone should do whatever they can, so I’m just trying to play my part,” she said. “Eliminate the things you don’t need, plastic straws for example, and just drink from the cup.”She also encouraged other young persons out there to work relentlessly in the race to achieve their goals and dreams. “Every time I fail or things don’t work out in the lab, I always think back to why I started doing it. That is to make oceans plastic-free and encourage other young people, especially young girls, to make a difference in the world, in whatever domain their passion lies.”

References

  1. PLASTIC POLLUTION – FACTS AND FIGURES.” Surfers Against Sewage. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  2. This Teenage Girl Made a Plastic Bag From Shrimp.” National Geographic. Lulu Morris. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  3. Winners of 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.” CSIRO. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
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