Fishy Finding - Students Turn Fish Into Plastic

Product demonstration with Princess Maha Chakri SirindhornProduct demonstration with Princess Maha Chakri SirindhornWhat do you get when you cross a fish with three tenacious students? Plastic.

Pornwasu Pongtheerawan, 16, Tanpitcha Phongchaipaiboon, 17, and Arada Sungkanit, 17, from Suratpittaya School in Thailand, have been working on turning the things that are in abundance around them into useful materials for a few years now. Their earlier work (can you believe we're saying this about schoolkids?) centered on turning coconuts and pineapples into imitation leather, which turned out pretty well, judging by the photo below.

Imitation leather made from pineapple husksImitation leather made from pineapple husksBut they have had even more success working with fish. $50,000 worth of success, to be precise. That's because Pornwasu, Tanpitcha and Arada's research has just won them the Young Scientist Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2011.

The award, which was for "their commitment to innovation in tackling challenging scientific questions, using authentic research practices, and creating solutions to the problems of tomorrow," will be "disbursed in four equal installments to students enrolled at any accredited degree-granting institution of higher education, following their successful completion of high school." Which could go a long way in Thailand.

The three students produced stiff, moldable plastic from fish scale gelatin, that biodegrades harmlessly in soil within a month. To demonstrate the efficacy of their research, the team presented bowls and plates made from the substance at their Fair booth.

The only question is, after fish, coconuts and pineapples - what next? Rice is a major crop in Thailand - so maybe rice husks? Certainly, don't be expecting plastics made from elephant parts anytime soon.

Here are three very happy kids celebrating their prize: