Eco-conscious innovation: Free State scientist awarded for paper straw research

A Free State young scientist has been awarded at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair (ISF) after testing the durability of paper straws to determine their moisture resistance, as an eco-friendly and cost-effective choice for those concerned about the environment.

Darren Chen, 13, from Ladybrand Primary School, who represented the Bethlehem region, was among ten learners selected to receive a coveted 12-month Mentorship and Incubation programme sponsored by the Durban University of Technology during the ISF, which was held at the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre in Boksburg. Valued at R20,000 per learner, the programme is a well-deserved recognition of Chen’s potential and his impactful research project.

“My research found that kraft paper performed the best for moisture resistance when making paper straws at home. Opt for a moderate diameter and avoid prolonged use. The ideal temperature for use was between 0 and 30 degrees Celsius. Additionally, avoiding exposure to acidic or alkaline beverages could increase its effectiveness. Using homemade paper straws was not only environmentally friendly and cost-effective but also a great choice for those who care about the Earth,” said Chen, who was also awarded a Gold medal for his research.

“A few years ago I watched a video about a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nasal cavity. I repeatedly watched the sad video and wondered if there was a better solution to protect these lovely ocean creatures. Then in recent years, many supermarkets and coffee shops have introduced paper straws. However, I noticed that many paper straws in the market still contain a thin layer of plastic. Therefore, I started my research aiming to find a pure paper straw that is environmentally-friendly,” he said.

Chen, whose dream is to study for a Master’s degree in science or engineering in Germany, added: “I couldn’t believe the moment my name was announced at the awards ceremony. I felt super honoured when I received my awards on stage. I have been immersed in joy ever since. My self-confidence has been greatly strengthened, and my interest in science has deepened”.

Eskom Acting Group Executive for Government & Regulatory Affairs, Natasha Sithole said: “Congratulations to all the young scientists who enthusiastically participated in the Eskom Expo International Science Fair this year. We at Eskom would like to express our delight at the increased participation this year, especially among girl scientists, and would like to emphasise the importance of fostering diversity in the field of science. Eskom remains enthusiastic about its role in cultivating a rich pipeline of future scientists for South Africa, ensuring that the nation’s scientific landscape continues to thrive with innovation and inclusivity”.

Eskom Expo Executive Director, Parthy Chetty said: “Annually at the ISF, several young participants intrigue the judges with their levels of commitment to protecting life on Earth. Darren, a Grade 7 learner, has shown that responsible and ethical behaviour starts with the individual and the choices they make. At Eskom Expo, Environmental Studies is one of the 13 Expo categories where learners can research sustainable eco-friendly living in the areas of biological control; bioremediation; ecology; environmental management; sustainability; and sustainable development. We urge all teachers to encourage and support their learners with finding solutions and designing innovations for a sustainable future”.

Eskom Expo ISF 2023 Special Award winners

Eskom Expo ISF 2023 Grand Award winners

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