Terri Coles
June 28, 2013

This 16-Year-Old Girl Won $50,000 in the Google Science Fair

Photo credit: Elif Bilgin

Photo credit: Elif Bilgin

When you look at a banana peel, what do you see? Compost fodder is what I see, but Turkish 16-year-old Elif Bilgin saw the potential for a bioplastic. The two years of work she put into developing a plastic made from discarded banana peels just won her a $50,000 prize for the Science in Action award in the Google Science Fair.

The Science in Action award recognizes a project that can make a practical difference in the world by addressing an environmental, health, or resource challenge. The work that wins the award should be innovative, easy to execute and able to be reproduced in other communities.

Bilgin’s work certainly seems to fit the bill: she went through 10 trials to create her bioplastic, after learning that starch and cellulose are used to make other plastics created from biological materials. Both of those are in ample supply in banana peels, and bioplastics are already made using mango peels.

She was inspired by Thomas Edison in her work to perfect the material: in her project submission she wrote “Even Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’”

Scientific American interviewed Bilgin about her work and her win:

For me, this means that my project actually has a potential to be a solution to the increasing pollution problem caused by petroleum-based plastic. It also means that I have started the process of changing the world, which makes me feel like a winner already.

Bilgin hopes to attend medical school in the future, and the year of mentoring she receives as part of her prize from Google should certainly help her reach her goals. Congratulations to another awesome role model for young women in science!