At 18, Kiara Nirghin is leading the way for young girls in science

Scientist Kiara Nirghin delivering a TedX talk in Pretoria last year Picture: File
Scientist Kiara Nirghin delivering a TedX talk in Pretoria last year Picture: File

At just 18 years old, Kiara Nirghin from Johannesburg has achieved what most people take decades to accomplish. She forms part of the new wave of Generation Z, a generation that has been born into a world of smartphones and devices. But Nirghin doesn’t just fit the mould of being technologically savvy. Her love for innovation and fostering change in the world is what led her to becoming the winner of the 2016 Google Science Fair and Community Impact award, for her innovative scientific method to assist drought-stricken regions across the world.

It started out as a science school project. Nirghin created a biodegradable super absorbent substance called a polymer, capable of storing reserves of water using orange peels and avocado skins, which is a gamechanger for creating water reserves in water-scarce areas.

During a TedX talk which she delivered in Pretoria last year, she said: “If we don’t continue looking at the big issues in life, we will continue living with them. If we don’t look at solving the drought, we will continue living in drought-stricken areas.”

This has been what drives Nirghin to enforce change in the world through her innovation, and she’s only just getting started.

Speaking to City Press via email from the US, where she is currently an undergraduate student at the prestigious Stanford University renowned for its role in research, Nirghin said that it is important to keep asking questions to find a solution, no matter how complex the problem is.

“I have learnt that finding solutions to big, complex problems are just that: big and complex! However, it is so important to break the problem down into a root cause and start from there. Though I should note even with this approach you are never guaranteed a success! It is far more important to keep asking questions and innovating.”

kiara nirghin
Youth Revolution, by Kiara Nirghin

The young scientist, who has been featured in Forbes Africa as part of the new wave of disruptors, has also written a book titled Youth Revolution, in which she delves into the health challenges she faced as she battled bacterial meningitis and undiagnosed bilharzia, which could have resulted in her losing her eyesight and the use of her limbs.

Writing the book was a way for her to motivate other young girls.

“My dad has always encouraged me to use my platform to inspire. He says that this is one of the most important ways to become a ‘multiplier’ for African success. I want other young, African girls to read my story and find a sense of belonging and motivation that they can change the world.”

For Nirghin, being a young female scientist comes naturally to her, and she hopes to encourage more girls to follow this path.

“I don’t ever consider it a ‘pressure’, more of an internal motivation to solve problems and be innovative.”

Through her work, Nirghin has been rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the world of tech, including Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai, and was one of the United Nations Environment’s regional young champions of the earth finalists in 2018. With the underrepresentation of women and girls in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector, Nirghin champions the cause for young girls in science across the globe.

As the world celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science today, she encourages girls to look to their capabilities of becoming the next generation of game changers.

“Look around you and know that if you aren’t happy with what you see, you can and should make a difference. Innovate and create to improve your community. Never consider your gender a setback, consider it a defining perspective that you bring as a female scientist.”

Nirghin will be speaking at the UN Headquarters on International Women’s day, which takes place on Friday March 8.

Avantika Seeth
Multimedia journalist
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001  e:
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