Meet 10th graders (and long-time best friends) Bridgette Castronovo and Taylor McNeal (pictured), inventors of the Biodegradable Straw and recent winners at Georgia Tech’s K-12 Inventure Prize. Mike Moseley, Director of Leadership and Training at The Henry Ford, recently spoke with Bridgette and Taylor as part of our Kid Inventor Friday series.
“Excess use of non-biodegradable plastic products has contributed to global pollution and growing strain on the environment,” explains Bridgette. “The purpose of the project is to design and develop a biodegradable straw made from a natural materials that functions as an alternative to polymer and paper straws.”
“Our invention features a method to utilize the most prevalent agricultural waste product, corn husks, as a recycled base material to create a functioning biodegradable straw,” added Taylor. “We also added additional natural materials to improve the invention.”
Two years in the making, their initial invention started by boiling the cornhusks and adding sodium carbonate to lower the PH (so the straw can sustain in acidic drinks) and then blended with water. Using kushi, a paper making technique, to soak up the water, they then rolled the fibers to make a straw.
After a great deal of literature review as well as skills learned in their biology class (mainly biopolymers, which are natural polymers produced by living organisms), they then continued to perfect their invention. To make the straw stronger, Taylor and Bridgette coated the base in a chitosan solution, which is found in the shells of crustaceans and also happens to be the second most abundant biopolymer.
With winning at the Georgia Tech’s K-12 Inventure Prize and receiving a patent award, the two are now in the process working with two patent attorneys.
As to participating in an invention convention, “Competing in competitions is extremely important. You get feedback from the judges and other competitors, but you also get to see all sorts of other amazing ideas,” explains Bridgette. “It’s also a reward. You do all this work throughout the course, for us, two years, and it was very validating to have an organization such as Georgia Tech say, ‘yeah, that was great, we loved it’. For us, that was a major step to encourage us to keep working.”
Taylor’s advice to young inventors: “You should have the right mentality. You can’t quit when things get really difficult. You never know where your ideas can take you.”