If you missed last week’s TEDx Youth event in Sydney — a short-talk series jam-packed with inspiring young people making their mark on the world — you missed something truly fabulous. We were lucky enough after the talks to chat with the living genius that is Angelina Arora, who comes across as your typical bubbly 16-year-old girl. Except that she’s a lab live-in who’s invented multiple solutions to major world problems already. Yeah bloody no biggie, hey.
Let’s be real, the biggest problem most of us had at 16 was whether or not our high school crush had feels for us or not. Arora, on the other hand, was in a university lab combining chitin from prawn shells with fibroin from spider silk to produce a plastic that completely breaks down in just 33 days. Quick reminder that your standard plastic bag takes thousands of fkn years to degrade.
You’d think someone would have gotten around to this solution before Arora. “That’s what I thought,” she says, still flushed from the thrill of her speech on the Seymour Centre stage. “I thought either it wouldn’t work or it had already been done before, but I was so surprised to see that it hadn’t … the silk of fibroin, it acts as a plasticiser whereas chitin is what makes it a polymer.”
So how exactly does a 16-year-old girl manage to find herself in a white coat running scientific experiments?
“It was very difficult,” says Arora, without a trace of irony. “I didn’t do most of this at school, although I did have a lot of support from school. I did a lot of this in university labs in the mornings before or after school. It was very difficult because, again, with the age thing, I was below 18, labs are dangerous.”
“I emailed so many professors — like, a hundred — and like, most of them didn’t even reply.”
Fortunately for this amazing supergal of modern science, and after a successful experiment at home through which she developed plastic from cornstarch, Arora got the attention of the CSIRO and BHP Billiton (AS YOU DO).
The two orgs kickstarted her scientific career (bless), hooking her up with mentors and proudly waving her flag. Now she’s intending to study medicine, once she’s wrapped up the patents for her current project: a dissolvable medical suture.
“To put a smile on someone’s face, it really doesn’t feel like work,” she says.
It’s Possible To Change The World When You’re Young
Basically, I wish every senior complaining about millennial entitlement and laziness could meet Arora. She would very quickly change their minds. I asked about Arora’s hobbies and she listed so many outside activities and commitments — including piano, clarinet and community service — that I felt tired just listening. The young woman’s passion and energy are simply astonishing.
“I have encountered a lot of barriers when I wanted to do things and I think that I just wanted to show young people that it’s not impossible to do anything that you set your mind to, and that anything difficult is worth doing.”
Arora’s core message in speaking to the TEDx Youth audience is simple: stay curious. “I wanted to encourage people to keep asking questions because as we grow older, we lose that curiosity that we had when we were kids,” she says. “And sometimes the simplest answers are the answers to some of the world’s most complex problems.”
So there’s your dose of humble pie for the day. Feel bad for a sec, but then go out and do amazing things.
Image: TEDx Youth