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Beauty And Brains: Science Award Winner Creates Bioplastic From Banana Peels

Proof that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive recently came in the form of a 16-year-old Turkish woman, Elif Bilgin. Over the summer she won the 2013 Science in Action award, part of the third annual Google Science Elif Bilgin (You Tube Image)Elif Bilgin (You Tube Image)Fair. The invention that garnered the resident of Istanbul, Turkey, the $50,000 prize was a method for turning banana peels into bioplastic.

Bilgin had noticed that mango peels had been used by the plastics industry and surmised that banana peels could also be made into a bioplastic. This would be especially beneficial since there are far more banana peels being discarded around the world than mango peels.  She noted that in Thailand alone they discard 200 tons of banana peels every day. A renewable resource in abundance AND keeping it out of garbage heaps and landfills.

The starches and cellulose in the outer skin of the bananas also made the peels an ideal candidate. Bilgin worked for two years on her idea, creating a chemical process to remove these substances from the peels. It took 12 tries to get it to work. The first 10 were failures, though 9 and 10 showed promise but started to decay rapidly. It was tries 11 and 12 that proved her success.

Bilgin, who wants to attend medical school one day, entered her work for a chance at the 2013 Science in Action award. The award seeks to honor a project that makes a difference by addressing a health, environmental, or resource issue. It needs to be easy, innovative, and simple to put into action by other communities. In addition to the $50,000 cash prize she also won a year's worth of mentoring help to further her work.

She hopes that this plastic will one day replace some of the more toxic petroleum-based plastics currently in use. The chemical process used to produce the plastic is fairly benign and environmentally friendly.

Bilgin is also a finalist in the overall Google Science Fair for 15-to-16-year-olds along with 14 other finalists. She feels that this honor and the 2013 Science in Action award confirm her feeling that science is her calling and that she has chosen the correct path in life. To paraphrase it in song lyrics her future is so bright she's gotta wear shades. You go girl!

Sources: Inhabitat, Scientific American