Melbourne, February 16: A robotic window cleaner, a water filter made from agricultural waste, and a plastic made from prawn shells are the main winners of the 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards for school students announced in Melbourne today.

15 year old Indian-origin school girl Angelina Arora dreams of “every single plastic in the world made out of my plastic”.

Flexible and sturdy, Angelina’s bio-inspired plastic may soon be sustainable way of using seafood waste for all plastic bags.

Angelina, winner of the Innovator to Market award 2018, set out to develop a bioplastic made from prawn shell and sticky protein from the silk of silkworms.

The plastic completely degrades leaving nothing harmful behind. She tested the strength, elongation, clarity, solubility, deconstruction and endurance of the plastic as well as other plastics made out of potato, corn and tapioca.

Angelina hopes this plastic could replace current plastic shopping bags and other packaging to reduce the environmental impact in landfill and in the ocean.

Angelina is a budding young scientist who had earlier won first prize in chemistry at the NSW Young Scientist Awards in 2016, for developing a plastic type made out of cornstarch.

Although her first development was too biodegradable – the material would break down as soon as exposed to water – it however, landed her to be introduced to top scientists at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) who were mentoring her through the ‘prawn to plastic’ project.

The amazing bio-plastic has the strength of a prawn shell and the flexibility of a spider’s web, while being completely bio-degradable.

This amazing discovery happened on a regular night, when Angelina was picking up an ordinary dinner from the local Fish and Chips shop. The pile of crab and prawn shells, which was a waste product for the business, set her thinking.

With the kilos of shells that the owner was more than happy to give away, Angelina turned up with a smelly pile at the science lab at her Sydney Girls High School and got experimenting.

That led her to a second prize in Chemistry at Young Scientist Awards STANSW 2017 for developing a strong and biodegradable plastic.

She is continually encouraged by parents, Nitin and Aashima Arora, who are very proud of Angelina’s achievement.

Although Nitin is “unable to even pronounce the proteins” that his daughter has worked with, he looks forward to the time when this bio degradable plastic is mass produced and becomes the solution against the current environmentally-stifling plastic.

Oliver Nicholls winner of the Engineering category; combined his knowledge of mathematics, physics and design to create an autonomous robotic window cleaner, designed to reduce injury and decrease the commercial costs of window cleaning.

The final product went through rigorous prototyping, testing and evaluation to show commercial viability.

Minh Nga Nguyen, winner of the Investigations category, used agricultural by-products such as corn husks, bamboo scraps and rice waste, to create a biochar product with the dual capability of filtering water and then being used as a fertilizer.

The process reduces the effects of contaminated water and pollution created by agricultural waste. She hopes this technology will provide positive impact globally.

Minh hopes to become an environmental engineer.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the award winners’ and finalists’ ideas could help all Australians cope with a rapidly changing future.

“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,” Dr Marshall said.

“Around three quarters of all future jobs will need STEM and we’re absolutely committed to helping school students develop these skills so they can shape Australia’s future.

“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.”

The BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards are a partnership between the BHP Billiton Foundation, CSIRO, the Australian Science Teacher Association and Science Teachers Association from all states.
by Shalini Singh

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