A group of Princeton High School students have been named one of 10 finalists in a national education competition that asks students to use STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to solve problems local.
The students’ project for the 12th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition involves using black soldier flies to turn food waste into usable products, like soap. They won $50,000 in technology and school supplies for their project, after learning they were finalists last week.
On April 25, students will present their final presentation to the judges and see if they are named one of three national winners, winning the additional grand prize of $100,000.
Mark Eastburn, the high school science teacher who oversees the project, said the idea came from his daughter, who had explored the use of black soldier flies to reduce food waste in a project she was leading for the New Jersey Youth Institute.
Princeton students liked the idea. They ordered some of the flies away and are now feeding them leftover donuts as an example of reducing food waste. They also discovered that the flies themselves produce high-quality oil that can be used for other industries.
“So because black soldier fly oil is a saturated fat, it makes a great substitute for several different types of saturated fat, such as palm oil, which is incredibly lucrative because of how easy it is to eat. is obtained cheaply,” Ngan said. Le, a junior involved in the project.
The students then started creating soaps from the oil because it’s more durable, Le said.
Eastburn said he bought about 2,000 black fly larvae for about $15. From the initial purchase, the students were able to keep them self-sufficient and regularly harvest the larvae on a weekly basis.
The flies are currently living in a “not very safe glass container” in Eastburn’s classroom, he said. At night, a special light containing ultraviolet rays is turned on.
Since these flies grow exponentially – one female can lay 500 eggs – Eastburn said insects are the future of sustainability. He hopes to expand the project into a project-based, multidisciplinary learning module for the school and potentially create more products that can be sold as part of a fundraiser for the school.
George Kopf, a junior involved in the project, said the project has been a lesson in student empowerment, for himself and for others.
“Just because you know, you’re taking something like food waste, which is basically garbage, and turning it into usable biomass (and) commercially accessible petroleum,” he said, “and that’s just an opportunity that only comes if you reach out and seek it out.
The students are also up for the Community Choice Winners award of an additional $10,000 for their school. Anyone can vote by viewing the school project video and voting here.
Voting is permitted once per day until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 23, 2022.
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Brianna Kudisch can be contacted at [email protected].