Sep 30, 2016 12:52 AM EDT

South African Student Wins $50,000 from Google Science Fair

Patience and hard work paid off for a 16-year-old South African student from St. Martin's in Johannesburg who made an extraordinary project for the 2016 Google Science Fair.

Kiara Nirghin has been named the overall winner of the said event, where she received the grand prize of $50,000 (R687,470) for her project titled "Combatting drought with a Low-Cost, biodegradable Superabsorbent Polymer made out of orange peels."

In the official website for the 2016 Google ScienceFair, Nirghin explained the reason behind her project. She said that in 45 years, South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts with the lowest ever rainfall since 1904.

According to Nirghin's research, South Africa received only an average of 403 mm rain in 2015, which is merely 66 percent of the annual average rainfall. Nirghin said that since rainfall affects food resources, which at this point in time is under strain and with household food security as a major concern, these matters must be urgently addressed.

She believed that solution to solve the present problem is through Superabsorbent Polymers (SAPs) from bio-waste. She said that when SAP is cross-linked with polymerization, the product is water retaining hydrogels that act as a reservoir of collected water in soil.

"During more research in the topic, I found that natural occurring polymers exist in most citrus fruits," Nirghan said. She added that she found out through her experimentations that 'orange peel mixture' can actually absorb 76.1 percent of water, "which is significantly greater than the acrylic SAP, starch SAP and pectin SAP."

After her experiments, Nirghan said that the results supported her hypothesis that the 'Orange peel mixture' when applied to soil maintained the greatest average soil. "I was successful in creating a low-cost superabsorbent polymer, the 'Orange peel mixture' is made out of waste products found in the juice manufacturing industry."

Google announced the 2016 Science Fair last year where they encouraged students around the world ages 13-18 to join and submit projects online across all scientific fields.

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