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Kiara Nirghin: South African scientist, inventor and speaker


“Something for me to improve the world” Nirghin said. Changing the planet has always been the ambition of the brilliant girl. From the teenage girl full of dreams to the woman of influence, discover her impressive journey.


Genesis

Kiara Nirghin is a young scientist born on February 25, 2000 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She grew up in the town of Alberton and was passionate about chemistry from an early age. Kiara Nirghin’s adventure with science will seriously begin in 2015. South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. Millions of people and animal species are affected and facing severe water shortages, and the country’s farmers are seeing their crops destroyed. The sector then faced a very serious crisis. Prices of available food soared and many farmers went bankrupt.

Therefore, they are asking for government assistance to overcome the difficulty. AgriSA, the South African agricultural industry union, is asking for more than one million euros in subsidies.



At that time, Kiara Nirghin was only 15 years old and would suffer the crisis head on. She contracted bilharzia, a parasitic disease transmitted by contact with contaminated water. This condition will weaken her immune system so much that she will develop severe bacterial meningitis and be hospitalized for many months.


Despite her young age, Kiara Nirghin is strongly affected by this period. Determined to change the world, she began to think about how she could solve the drought problem. Its objective is to minimize the effects of the crisis on agriculture. That’s when she decided to take a closer look at super absorbent polymers (SAP). Indeed, one day, watching her sister change her daughter’s diaper, she is surprised “by the amount of liquid that a cheap diaper could absorb. These are called super-absorbent polymers that are essentially powders that can hold a large amount of water relative to their weight.”


AMPs are already used in the agricultural industry to prevent soil from drying out. Nevertheless, they are very expensive to produce and pollutants for the environment due to their harmful chemical composition. Kiara Nirghin then holds her idea.


The invention of a biodegradable absorbent polymer

Kiara Nirghin’s thinking will quickly lead her to the need to create a polymer: 

  • super-absorbent capable of storing water reserves representing a hundred times its own weight, 

  • biodegradable to have a sustainable solution over time, 

  • The European Commission has made a number of recommendations to the Council.

She then began real research on AMPs and discovered their common point: chain polysaccharides («complex carbohydrates made up of a large number of simple sugars, linked together by glucosidic bonds»). 

She discovers that orange peel contains 64% polysaccharides, and that avocado skin has interesting virtues for her project thanks to the fat it contains.


So she tries to boil orange peel in water, and combine the liquid obtained with avocado skins and dried pieces of bark. It cooks the mixture until it completely eliminates moisture and grinds it. 


The result is a white powder that can retain 300 times its weight in water, and be directly implanted on the soil of crops. Subsequently, the tests showed that its use made it possible to keep the soil moist. In these experiments, the resulting plants produced more flowers.


Kiara Nirghin had finally found «LA» solution to the identified problem. To complete his project, all he had to do was to make it known and allow its marketing so that it could be used on farms across the country. 


The consecration of his invention

In 2016, thanks to her invention, Kiara Nirghin won the «Community Impact Award» of the Google Science Fair. She is also on Time’s list of the 30 most influential teenagers. 


She will also give many conferences on this subject: Lead SA Change Makers Conference, TEDx, Forbes Africa… 

 

In 2018, she joined Stanford University and specialized in computer science. “I’ve really seen the potential that technology can have in terms of innovation, and that’s my main driving force,” she said. “I want to innovate, solve problems and create products that help people. That’s what I see myself doing.”

 

In 2021, she partnered with an international agricultural company to bring her product to market.


Entrepreneurship and engagement in feminist activism

Kiara Nirghin has often expressed the need, according to her, to diversify the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) by opening this sector more to women. 

 

Indeed, she points out that in South Africa, girls are not encouraged to pursue scientific careers. 

 

On March 8, 2019, she went directly to the United Nations in New York, encouraging them to encourage scientific careers among young girls. 

She then joined UNICEF and GirlsHelpGirls.org in mentoring missions to help women. Without a doubt, she believes that young girls need inspiring role models to trust before they can get started. 


Kiara Nirghin has not wavered on her research concerning «the problems of the world». 

 

With her studies in bioinformatics, she co-founded the company CHIMA in 2022. It is a company that aims to power scalable artificial intelligence to solve problems at scale.

 

The least we can say is that Kiara Nirghin seems to be only at the dawn of what she has always wanted to do: improve the world!


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Written by Oceane D.

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