16-year-old Turkish Teen Makes Bioplastic from Banana Peels

Elif Bilgin

Meet Elif Bilgin, the latest in a string of wunderkids from the Middle East and North Africa, who invented a bioplastic made from banana peels. Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad from Egypt made biofuel from plastic, and Arab and Jewish kids are working together on an algae project, but none have been as well rewarded as this 16-year-old from Istanbul.

Bilgin spent two years working on her bioplastic invention after becoming convinced that the starch and cellulose present in banana peels could be used for similar applications as other plastics made from organic materials such as mangoes and potatoes.

It took ten failed experiments before the teen, who told Scientific American that "science is her calling," created a cohesive plastic material that did not degrade.

Throughout the process, she took heart in words uttered by Thomas Edison years before: "I have not failed," he said. "I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

The girl's perseverance paid off, and she won Scientific American's coveted Science in Action prize, which comes with a $50,000 cash prize, one year of mentoring so that she can further develop her project, and she is an automatic finalist in the Google Science Fair.

In September, Bilgin will fly to the Mountain View Campus in California to compete with 14 other exceptional young scientists in this prestigious competition.

The Science in Action prize is designed to reward students who address environmental, health or resource challenges.

Bilgin said she is happy that her banana peel bioplastic, which will be used to insulate electrical cables or for cosmetic prostheses, will help to divert some of the pollution caused by the production of petroleum-based plastics.