Environmental visionary tackles olive waste pulp challenge at Eskom Expo, winning R50K as top junior scientist

In a quest to address the environmental impact of excessive olive waste pulp, a research project by a Pretoria-based young scientist explored the potential of biodegradable olive pulp pot plants in promoting seed germination at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair.

By subjecting Afrikaner seeds, Sunflower seeds, and Namaqualand Daisy seeds to innovative treatments involving plant probiotics, Inge Higgins, 15, a learner at Die Hoërskool Menlopark, aimed to mitigate the adverse effects of olive pulp and transform it into a resource for nurturing plant growth.

Inspired by a familial connection to an Olive farm in the Northern Cape, this research project carries forward the legacy of Higgins’s late grandfather, laying the groundwork for sustainable solutions in agriculture.

“I wanted to treat the pulp in such way that negative impact of olive pulp was mitigated and can be used to grow plants from the seeds. I also used plant probiotics to treat this. I found that it was successful,” said Higgins who was awarded the top junior scientist at the ISF, winning a R50,000 cash prize. Higgins was also awarded a Gold medal, and the top junior Environmental Studies category award.

“It remains a surreal experience to have received these prestigious awards. I am deeply honoured by the judges’ recognition as the best junior scientist, and their decision took me by surprise. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Eskom and all the other sponsors for their generous support and acknowledgment. I am appreciative of the boundless opportunities that the Eskom Expo has opened for me and aspire that my journey serves as an inspiration to all aspiring scientists. After all, it’s in the pursuit of our dreams and the exploration of our ideas that we uncover remarkable destinations we never imagined,” said Higgins, who enjoys horse-riding, drama, playing piano, and is part of a Children’s Choir.

“I am planning on studying further after completing school. I’m not sure yet, but want to go into medicine in order to help people. I have some time before I finally decide,” she said.

Eskom Acting Group Executive for Government & Regulatory Affairs, Natasha Sithole, said: “Being a steadfast supporter of the Eskom Expo, we were overjoyed to witness how it has evolved into an amazing platform to nurture the aspirations of young scientists. Eskom firmly believes that investments in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Innovation (STEMI) will assist in the formulation of enduring solutions to our nation’s pressing challenges. The ISF showcased youthful ingenuity, as learners explored diverse topics, from behavioural studies to pioneering experiments, IT, machine learning, artificial intelligence applications, and the application of physics and mathematics”.

Eskom Expo Executive Director, Parthy Chetty, said: “Inge, a grade 9 learner impressed Expo Judges with her meticulous attention to detail and rigorous application of the scientific investigative method. These are the qualities we constantly strive to instil in our young scientists and innovators. Inge’s research is a good example of how, through Expo resources, learners can extend and build on the content knowledge learnt at school. We encourage all educators to make our freely available CAPS aligned Expo resources available to all learners”.

Eskom Expo ISF 2023 Special Award winners

Eskom Expo ISF 2023 Grand Award winners

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  1. […] Inge Higgins from Die Hoërskool Menlopark in Gauteng was awarded the 2023 Top Junior Scientist award, winning a R50,000 cash prize. Higgins’s research was entered in the Environmental Studies Category. She investigated the effect biodegradable olive-pulp plant pots had on the germination, and early growth of Afrikaner, Namaqualand Daisy and Sunflower seeds. In addition, she found that probiotics further accelerated the germination of these seeds. Higgins went on to compete in the Buca International Music, Science, Engineering Energy Fair (IMSEF), which took place in İzmir, Türkiye in November, where she was awarded a Silver medal. […]

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