Materials , Living things and their habitats , Climate challenge , Celebrating scientists
What do you know about this scientist? Can you deduce anything from the photographs? The Who Is…? activities introduce children to a diverse range of scientists and engineers. Find out about their work and how this links to the primary curriculum.
Run the activity
If you are using this activity to teach about the Climate Challenge, think about the types of Positive Action that would suit your school and children. Prepare the materials you might need before the lesson.
1.Begin to discuss the question Who Is..? by introducing Kiara Nirghin as a scientist and asking children what they think she does. Working in a small group or pair, can they look for clues about her in the photographs. These prompts may help you:
- Do you think she is alive today?
- Is there anything in the photographs which gives you a clue about the type of science she was involved in?
- Kiara Nirghin invented a biodegradable product which helps soils retain water for longer. Why do you think that is useful?
- Does global warming mean we will have more droughts worldwide?
2. Share your ideas with the class. Did everyone agree?
3. Read the Background Science (you could do this as a class) to find out more about her life.
Top Tips:How to run Who Is? activities
When teaching children about the Climate Challenge, it is important that we give them the facts (age appropriately and sensitively). During your discussion, allow time for children to express their thoughts and feelings and have them validated.
This is Kiara Nirghin, a South African woman who, at the age of 16, showed the world how STEM skills can help solve big global problems. Where Kiara lived, intense droughts meant that farmers were unable to produce enough food for local people. When the rain came, it usually seeped through the dry soil and ended up in the ground water where it was not accessible to plants.
Prompted by a Google competition, Kiara started researching what could help, and she invented a new water conservation material for soils. She used local waste products (orange peel and avocado skins) and developed special techniques to make a super absorbent polymer (SAP). This is a powder which absorbs lots of water when it is wet (up to 300 times its own weight) and then releases the water when the plants need it.
Kiara knew about SAPs (from watching her sister changing nappies) but her SAP was much more suitable for farmers because it was cheap and biodegradable. Her tests showed that when her SAP was added to soils in areas which tend to experience droughts, the plants were 84% more likely to keep growing.
Kiara Nirghin enjoyed science experiments from the age of 7 after being inspired by watching her older brother. She worked hard and paid great attention to every detail in her investigations. Her SAP invention won the Google Science Fair prize. Since then, she has worked with an agricultural company and is aiming for her innovative product to be available for farmers by the end of 2022. Kiara went on to study computer sciences at a university in America and is now working on exciting new products. Kiara and her family are passionate about STEM and hope that her story will inspire young people worldwide.
Take it further
After giving children the information they need about Climate Challenge issues, give them time to express how they feel, empathising with them and validating their feelings before taking it further.
Watch this film to find out what inspired Kiara to create her award-winning invention when she as only 16 years old. Watch this film to hear Kiara explain how her orange peel, super absorbent polymer (SAP) helps solve the drought problem in South Africa.
Working with a partner, can children write an answer to the question, Who is Kiara Nirghin? An extra challenge could be to use less than 25 words (and more than 10).
Children can explore super absorbent polymers by investigating nappies. Younger children could explore which brand is the most absorbent, while older children could take it further and extract the super absorbent polymer (SAP) from the nappies and observe the water being absorbed. There is guidance for the investigation in the TAPS focused assessment plan for Year 5: Nappies. Meanwhile this shows how to extract the SAP from nappies (watch up to 3.10).
Find out about other diverse scientists, in science-related jobs, using A Scientist Just Like Me resource.
Linked Explorify activities - our recommendations:
Find out more about how water travels through a plant with Water Colours or let children solve a problem with Make a plant self-watering device or Biodegradable plant pots
Discuss with the children what could be done to help and if there is a positive action they can take themselves. Explain that when lots of people carry out small positive changes, it can have a big impact overall.
Inspired by Kiara Nirghin, children could invent their own solutions to help farmers. The NFU have lots of resources and the Engineering Educates Challenge offer cross-curricular resources using the Agricultural Engineering Design Process (this requires registration but is free).
Kiara Nirghin is worried about droughts leading to food shortages when crops fail. Achieving ‘Food Security’ is Sustainable Development Goal 2. Children could be introduced to these Global Goals with the world’s largest lesson resources. Watch this video which explores how childrens’ good ideas can help change the world, Then children could draw themselves with their superpower and add a speech bubble to explain their idea to solve a problem in their local area.
For more ideas on small positive steps to help the planet, read our article on The Climate Challenge.