006: How to Stimulate a Young Inventor with Angelina Arora

10th December, 2018 Posted under Impressive

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For the sixth episode of Impressive, a young scientist by the name of Angelina Arora, the inventor of bioplastic, tells the story behind her interesting work and how it has been taking her to greater heights. Also, she shares the insights that she gained while on her journey towards success.

Listen up as we explore:

  • How Angelina’s parents supported her passion for science and inventing.
  • How to seek out a support network of teachers, professors and mentors to make your dreams a reality.
  • How to find friends who are equally passionate about their own endeavours, while balancing schoolwork with international research.

Enjoy the Episode

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About Impressive

Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.

In an approachable on-air consultation style, she listens to some of the smartest, kindest parents share their latest parenting challenge with their incredible kids. Together they brainstorm solutions and Kimberley offer handy tips and valuable resources to help bring out the best in toddlers, teens and in-betweens. Drawing mostly on two decades of experience as a child psychologist, Kimberley also shares her personal insights as a mother of two and entrepreneur with a passion for problem-solving.


[00:00:08 – 00:00:29]: Impressive podcast starts with Dr. O’Brien’s short introduction of herself and the program to the avid listeners.

Doctor Kimberley: Hello, I’m Doctor Kimberley O’Brien — a child psychologist, entrepreneur, and mom with a passion for problem-solving in family adventures. Join me each week for practical tips and on-air consultations with the smartest, kindest parents and their incredible kids. Find answers faster, do things differently, and take your family further. This is Impressive.

[00:00:30 – 00:00:33]: This episode is sponsored by BriteChild.com. Now, let’s get started.

[00:00:34 – 00:02:51] At the start of the interview, Angelina Arora reveals how she came up with a way of helping the environment and, of course, the people. A short conversation with a cashier chipped in the idea not only for a project in Year 9, but also for an invention that could help save the environment.

Doctor Kimberley: Hello, and thank you so much for joining us this week on Impressive. I was lucky enough to speak to a young scientist by the name of Angelina Arora who’s based in Sydney, and she made some amazing discoveries when she was 15. She’s only 16 now. She goes to Sydney Girls High School, and she’s quite an inspiration for young female scientists, and also, really for purpose-driven parents who would love to see their children have just as many opportunities as Angelina.

So, without further ado, she’s going to tell you all about the discoveries that she’s made and how she’s made that happen. Thanks for listening.

I see you as a famous Australian young scientist who’s won lots of prizes. And so, it’s Angelina Arora from Sydney Girls High School. Is that right? In year 10?

Angelina: Yeah, in Year 11.

Doctor Kimberley: Year 11 now? Okay, good job. So, maybe, do you want to start from, you know, the beginning of the story where you found the prawn shells, and then somehow, I feel lots of months of research managed turned to biodegradable plastic.

Angelina: Yes, they are. I actually started off at school as Year 9 project. I was looking to something to do, and I was at a local supermarket, and that was the time when they used to charge their plastic bags. So, I asked a cashier at that point, “Oh, why do you charge your plastic bags?” Because I’ve always been really curious about everything. And she replied to me, “It’s to save the environment and to deter people from using plastic,” and that’s where it hit me. That’s something needs to be done where the environment is not deteriorating, but humans can still have their convenient use of plastic bags.

So, I went into looking at cornstarch, potato starch, and tapioca plastics, and different amounts of glycerine to see which term is best for commercial use. And I found the cornstarch is actually pretty good. But it was really impractical because it was soluble in water, which if it rained to groceries, it would just be on the floor.

Doctor Kimberley: Yeah.

Angelina: And also, taking away of the potential food product. So, that’s when I was thinking into looking into ways and going on from there. But it did exhibit the strength, flexibility, endurance, as well as it digging prawns a lot faster than conventional plastic

[00:02:52 – 00:04:11] Angelina then tells that she got engrossed with prawns as the material of her work. With that in mind, she had to talk to one professor to make this project feasible.

Doctor Kimberley: So, then what made you think of the prawns? And how does it look like on a daily basis? So, you’re in the lab at school for hours and in the evening, or you have usually set a role, and then when you struck a goal and realized you’ve found the missing link. Yeah, tell me about that one as well.

Angelina: Yes, thereafter I was going into looking at wastes, I looked up banana peel, it didn’t work. I looked up to a lot of things, it didn’t work. But then, it just kind of hit me. I wondered I was having dinner and at those, I was having prawns and that it was a day after a long day in the lab. And I saw, they look kind of plastic. What makes them look like plastic? Essentially, it’s a carbohydrate called chitin inside the shells of them. And I was then, I had a professor and we talked through it, and I, okay, what could be done with these, and potentially could be extracted, mix it with something, and make a plastic product out of it. So, it was super amazing just to finally, after so many years of work and so many years of researching and failing to finally get to that moment where something had worked.

Doctor Kimberley: Yes, so how long could that take? Like, from start to finish, how many months or years would that take?

Angelina: So, from all the way back to the cornstarch, that was around a year, and then a year and a half. So, two and a half years.

[00:04:12 – 00:05:30] When asked if she had any challenge while doing this work, Angelina replies that there were points along the way when she felt like giving up. But thinking twice about it, she had rather find solutions for this plan to be done than leave it incomplete. After all, she finds failure as part of success.

Doctor Kimberley: And did you ever start to, I guess like, lose your focus or think, “Oh, this is too hard.” Or you’re just so focused and you just knew it would work eventually?

Angelina: Yes. So, that was one of the greatest challenges I found. So, learning, I never actually dealt with failure before. Everything’s kind of been good, you know, just doing well and stuff. But being in the lab, things aren’t going to work most of the time, like, everyday you’re failing to one’s success, specifically with the ratios in my product; just what to mix and how to mix it. That really wasn’t working. And there were points where I was like, “Should I give up? Maybe it’s not going to work,” and I was doubting. But I think I had to think back to the motivation behind it, and why I started off doing it in the beginning. It was to make a difference and to save the environment as well as what I’ve always strived for helping people.

So, just thinking back to that should make me want to continue on. And after all, I knew that after all this is just how to see a failure as a learning progress.

Doctor Kimberley: Nice.

Angelina: Rather than a failure, I’ m just seeing it as a step to success. And have it and learn from it, and be resilient, and approach the problem logically, think through it, “Why is this not working? How can we make it work?” Rather than, “Let’s just give up.”

[00:05:31 – 00:07:27] Angelina proudly tells that her parents are the ones who motivate her the most. She also adds that their harmonious relationship helped her have a positive outlook in life, and that can be seen on how she handles the project that she started.

Doctor Kimberley: Yeah. So, tell me more about how you developed that attitude, and maybe your parents, how have they helped with this process?

Angelina: They’ve always been my number one supporters. They’re always been there to support me, to take me to the labs, and everything. So, I’ve always kind of grown up in a way where you just, you can’t give up. You start something and you continue on doing it until you achieve what you want to achieve. So, that’s kind of how I’ve been raised, and I guess that reflects into the work I do and everything I do now because I know that there’s no point in giving up really early on it.

Doctor Kimberley: I love it.

Angelina: And there is a way to just reflect that nothing is impossible, basically.

Doctor Kimberley: So good. So, can you remember when you’re really little like, what’s your earliest memory like, maybe when you’re a toddler? And what were you like as a toddler? And then, how did you sort of grow up into this person that’s so curious, and so committed, and so patient, all those qualities? So, how did that all kind of take shape?

Angelina: Well, I’ve always been really curious just about everything I’m engrossed, find books in a bookshop and it wasn’t like a Disney princess sort of fairytale. It’s a book with a fake heart on the front of it and it was an access to the human body, and I just loved that. I’ve always been interested in science and curious about how things work like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “How do you get something to be a way it is today, and how did it come about? How did it evolve?” So, I think also my parents probably are annoyed a little bit, just to continuously with questions they can’t answer most of the time. And after all, science is the key to all the mysteries in the world if that’s the core of the universe, which we revolve around. So, that’s why I love to do it so much because it has an answer to every problem, or if it doesn’t, you can find it.

[00:07:28 – 00:11:57] Here, she talks about her speaking engagements, experiences abroad with other young scientists, and winning awards for her outstanding work.

Doctor Kimberley: So good. And do you mentor younger children as well?

Angelina: So, I go out. I work with young scientists of Australia, volunteering as well as I’ve received an overwhelming amount, just an incredible support from the media that’s really allowed me a platform to get the word out and show people as well as talking with politicians about introducing more science at a young age where children aren’t influenced supposed to art school, so that they have a very open mind and can do whatever their passion is. So, having science at a young age allows interest to grow. And I’ve always go with younger kids and they’re mostly, the biggest thing that I found is, when their conscience say, “Oh my God, just such an inspiration.” You’ve done so much and I really want to follow in your footsteps. Now, I see that it’s possible and it can be done.” And it motivates them, and encourages them to do more, and to do what they want to do because they can see it’s possible. So, that’s why I like to go out to schools. I’ve spoken on a couple of school events as well as big industry events that have been on television and on radio, whatever.

Doctor Kimberley: Yeah. So, it’s just like so many amazing opportunities have opened up. Did you sort of see that when you were doing the work? Did you think, “I really want to win that award,” or “I really want to win that prize”? Did you know where you’re headed? And do still feel that you’ve got a goal in mind?

Angelina: And so, I didn’t actually know about these prizes when I was doing it. I didn’t think about that. I thought about the reason of why I should do it—to help the environment, to help people. And after I was exposed to all these prizes, I just kept on wanting to go and go and go and see how far it could think me, but rather than the prize itself, it’s only a symbol of the journey; you find it. It opens the door to many opportunities, and winning those prizes was a reason I wanted to do it because there was a reason where I could do so much other than just win the prize. For example, the BHP Billiton Innovator to Market prize. It allowed me to put my work into action, after all, an invention doesn’t really have much the purpose sitting there in the lab. It’s not entirely you can take it to market commercialized products, put it to people’s lives. You can only then have it impact on the world that was meant to help on the environment and on people.
So, going from there, I also allowed, it also allowed me to represent Australia.

Doctor Kimberley: Wow.

Angelina: Yeah, it was, I was, I’ve never been so much proud to be an Australian. And I could represent the country internationally. It also allowed me to be around people who share the same passion and take inspiration from them as well, as well as collaborate with scientists, sort of that collaboration. So, it was just a melting pot of ideas and it was so good to be in America at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair where you can learn from people what they’ve done to get there, how you could possibly do it together, how people should help out to encourage everybody else.

Doctor Kimberley: Yes. So, that was in Pennsylvania and there were lots of high school students. Is that right? Like, similar age or a whole bunch of different ages?

Angelina: Most of them were at Year 12. Some of them had already graduated, but their age was up to 18-19. That was pre-college before, and it was 1800 students from 78 different countries.

Doctor Kimberley: Crazy. So, what was happening? They’re just walking around? Yeah, tell me about that atmosphere.

Angelina: Yeah, it was so good. Everyone was so supportive and it was, we didn’t feel like we were from 78 different countries. We all just felt out like one because we all shared a common passion, and spoke a common language which is science. We didn’t feel like that, and we can also learn from people with their cultures, and how they’ve grown up.

Doctor Kimberley: Yes.

Angelina: To apply it and look at different problems from different perspectives.

Doctor Kimberley: Great. So, did you come back thinking, “All right. Now, I’m going to do this and that,” like, a whole long list of things that you want to still do?

Angelina: Yeah, I need to solve this problem, this problem, this problem.
Doctor Kimberley: Where is it heading? Do you have like, a destination? Or is it still more about the journey and just making it as fulfilling as possible?

[00:11:58 – 00:12:52] Doctor O’Brien talks about Power Up! program which can help the children have a plan for their performances to reduce anxiety.

Doctor Kimberley: Psst. I’m just stopping in here. It’s Doctor Kimberley O’Brien to let you know about Quirky Kid’s Performance Psychology Program for children aged 7 to 12 years old. The program is called Power Up! So, it’s performance psychology helping kids to perform in things like exams, dance performances, or a musical presentation of some sort. Anything that involves a performance, kids are often quite anxious, and the Power Up! program teaches them how to overcome their anxiety by having a plan.

If you’d like to find out more about Power Up! and about how we adapted this program that is typically used for adult athletes into something that’s user-friendly for children, please go to quirkykid.com.au, that’s Q-U-I-R-K-Y-K-I-D-dot-com-dot-a-u, and find out more about Power Up!

[00:12:52 – 00:13:46] Angelina reveals her plans of taking up medicine.

Angelina: I’ve always really been interested in medicine, and I really want to do medicine. I think like, it’s about helping a mother, or the people, or the environment, or whatever. But I think medicine has a real way of, good way of doing that because reminds humanity as well as science, and it brings together my two loves, and it’s a perfect balance. And I think it’s just so good to be in an environment where we can hear people’s stories, think on your feet, as well as the feeling of just putting a smile on someone’s face like I do with my plastic, or encouraging young girls as well as it brings a new outlook on life, and I think that’s why I really want to do it. So, I’m probably headed down on that path, but overall, I’d like to continue to researching maybe making advancements in medicine. With this also, I’m looking into making it into soluble searches as well as different kind of product more of the health space.

[00:13:47 – 00:17:06] Angelina then shares how she balances the kind of life she chose with her friends and school, and also managing the stress brought about by working on projects that a young child won’t normally do.

Doctor Kimberley: Awesome. I wish you every success with your dream to get into medicine and to do more amazing things, and help more people. Tell me a little bit more about school, and how you juggle all these because I’m thinking like, year 11, and to see this is going to be busy. So, how do you maintain your focus when there’s so many different opportunities?

Angelina: Yeah, it’s honestly hard. I’ve kind of learned to say, kind of step back and say ‘no’ to a couple of things, which I wanted to do. But overall, I think, I just kind of juggle. I really don’t have much time, but I think I make the most out of the time that I have. So, well, it’s like going to the university in the morning, and then going to school straight from there and coming back to the university, and keeping up like debating and cooperative public speaking as well as speaking in advance, and everything. I’m playing sports and I’m volunteering, and all of that. So, just making the most of the time that I have.

Doctor Kimberley: No, what were you saying? I interrupted.

Angelina: It gets harder at some times, but overall, it’s quite manageable and again just making use of class time as well as everyone when I get at home. I’ve ways doing some things.

Doctor Kimberley: Yeah. So, how do you manage stress like, I’m thinking that people in that position would obviously feel stress sometimes, I’m guessing, right? Like, when you don’t seem stressed; you seem really like that. I mean, it’s school holidays at the moment. I wonder what’s your secret to kind of, yeah, just time management and staying so positive. How could you help other kids with that kind of formula?

Angelina: Yes. So, I think don’t get stressed because that much, I obviously do a little bit sometimes, but overall, I look at the big picture of things, and then looking at the small details, obviously the small details are very important. But looking at where that fits into the rest of it, everything.

Doctor Kimberley: It’s taking a step back, and then just kind of getting perspective, rather than getting obsessed with the details and feeling stuck.

Angelina: Yeah, exactly. But also this is like, I need to go out into the real world and see what it’s like, rather than just being stuck in the microcosm–school.

Doctor Kimberley: Yes. What role do friends play in that, you know, the feeling that as you are maturing through adolescence, it’s, you know, less spending time with parents and family and more time with friends? So, do your friends share your passion? Or do you do different things with your friends, and you kind of focus on science independently?

Angelina: Yeah, everyone, I’m very fortunate to go to a school where everyone is so talented at something in their own. And my friends, they don’t necessarily share a passion for science. They like science as pretty much everyone in my grade does, but they have their own things and it’s just good to come back and share. Also, “What have you done in that?” and “What have I done on this,” and just support each other through that. And then, they’ve been like a really good support network.

Doctor Kimberley: And do they go to university, too? Like, you know, you mentioned in the morning, before school, at a university, and I’m guessing you use the labs there or something. Well, that’s where your professor is.

Angelina: Yes.

Doctor Kimberley: And do your friends do that, too? Or is that just because you’ve excelled to this level that you kind of pass school and into a university already?

Angelina: No, they don’t do that.

[00:17:07 – 00:19:54] To wrap up the interview, Angelina shares that she had a lot to go through before she was able to achieve what she has today, and that includes failures. But she’d rather face them all, and as she says it, “Don’t regret the things that you didn’t do, but regret the things you did.” This has become her mantra from then on.

Doctor Kimberley: So, when did all that start? Like, when did you start to kind of grow out of high school and into university even though you’re only… 16? Is that right? 17?

Angelina: 15.

Doctor Kimberley: 15? Amazing. You’re a girl for it. Tell me that part.

Angelina: Yes. So, it was from my cornstarch plastic. So, that was all done at school, and at home, but from resources weren’t available and everything. So, you know, a hundred professors and none of them replied, and just a number, call-in line and calling, and just finding people. And through that, I eventually found somebody after a hundred hints of ‘no’s, I finally got a yes. And then, from there, I went on to doing things and then introducing to new people at new spaces and new equipment, and kind of growing from there.

Doctor Kimberley: Do you want to mention the name of your professor in the university that was really open to taking your work? I feel like that’s just such forward-thinking, and when you think of it as 99, you know, institutions that said ‘no,’ it feels like they really missed out.

Angelina: Yeah, it’s pretty much all of the institutions in Sydney as well as a couple of inter-state as well. So, I don’t want to regret the things that I didn’t do, but regret the things that I did. So, that kind of allows me to keep on going and to keep on exploring. So, those are two things that I kind of live my life by.

Doctor Kimberley: So, can you say it again? Don’t regret the things that you didn’t do… no, what was that?

Angelina: Don’t regret the things that you didn’t do, but regret the things you did.

Doctor Kimberley: Okay. So, pretty much just don’t say ‘no’ to anything, just jump in and have a go.

Angelina: Yeah, just have a go and everything. Be open-minded; just take everything that comes at you.

Doctor Kimberley: Excellent attitude, and thank you so much for your time today. I was feeling like I’m going to be seeing your picture on a paper and prolly using your plastic at some point in the future. And, yeah, as I said, I just wish you every success and thank you so much for talking to us from the Quirky Kid podcast.

Angelina: No, thank you so much for having me.

Doctor Kimberley: Okay, Angelina. Have a good afternoon.

And that concludes our interview with Angelina Arora. Thank you so much for joining us. If you’d like to find out more about Angelina’s discoveries, you can go to our show notes at quirkykid.com.au, that’s Q-U-I-R-K-Y-K-I-D-dot-com-dot-a-u-forward slash-impressive, or join us on the Facebook Group, just search Impressive and you’ll find us there–a purpose-driven parents group where we love to communicate and create community. It’ll be great to see you there. My name’s Doctor Kimberley O’Brien. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you again next week.

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