Top Awards

ISEF Finalist and UA Scholarship, Roche Diagnostics Best of Chemical and Material Sciences Award

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ASM Materials Education Foundation Most Outstanding Exhibit in Materials Science, Dr. Uhl Exemplary in STEM


Chemical and Material Sciences
Julianna Serna-Ortiz

Alfred Santos

"1. Tell us about your research project and what made you choose this project? Are biodegradable plastics in the market truly biodegradable? Current biodegradable plastics such as PLA and oxo-biodegradables are found to be inefficient for they require a special composting facility to biodegrade in which most individuals do not have access to. In this project I am trying to create a new bioplastic that can be greatly beneficial for the environment. I used invasive algae and waste corncobs and put them together to create a bioplastic that has antimicrobial properties. Plastic pollution is a global issue, and we need to act right now! 2. Explain how you ran the tests, how many times did you repeat your test? My research is composed of several steps: First. I collected the starch from the waste corncobs. I sundried, crushed, rehydrate, and filtered the waste corncobs. To separate the starch, I used a centrifuge ran at 3000 rpm and dehydrate it in an incubator. This process took me 17 days. Second. To collect sodium alginate from Undaria pinnatifida, I performed different chemical processes such as alkalinization, separation, creating alginic gel and sodium alginate. Third. I collected extracts from Caulerpa prolifera, garlic, rosemary, and Sage using ethanol extraction and rotary evaporation. And Lastly, I engineered the bioplastics using the prepared materials. For the tests, I performed the following: 1. Biodegradability Test in which I prepared 8 treatments with varying sizes. I did this test for 2 weeks. 2. Antimicrobial tests in which I performed a total of 16 treatments. I used E.coli and mold as test subjects. 3. Melting point and Strength Test in which I performed several trials. 3. Were you surprised by your results/conclusion of your project? Why/why not? Yes! Before doing this project, I did not know that alginate combined with starch and other substances can make plastic. My teacher was guiding me through the process. However, I already had an idea it would work because I have seen videos of people who made plastics out of starch and algae. Mine is unique as I utilized waste corncobs and invasive algae. All the results from all the tests that I performed are statistically valid based on the ANOVA test results. 4. If you were going to do it all over again, would you change your test/project? I would probably test is a few more times just to be completely sure that my results remained the same. I think everything else were tested right. I believe I was able to perform the experiment in a very organized manner. 5. Why are your findings important? I believe my findings are important because it can be a good candidate for future daily-use plastic! My engineered bioplastic is very efficient, environmentally friendly, and cost effective. I was also able to utilize invasive algae which are detrimental to ecological balance and waste corncobs that have been a waste disposal problem by a lot of American farmers. Therefore, this project solves a lot of environmental problems. 6. What was the most challenging component of your experiment? The most challenging part is probably learning to use the machines required for the experiment. This includes incubator, centrifuge, and a rotary evaporator. But of course, I received a guidance from my teacher because I had no idea how to use them before. Doing the antimicrobial test was quite challenging too because this was my first time trying it, so it was a whole new thing for me. But overall, even though it consumed a lot of work and time, I learned a lot of things doing this research. 7. Did you try anything that did not work or did not give you expected results? If so, what did you learn from this? At first, I tried to do the experiment using Caulerpa prolifera only, but I discovered that it couldn’t produce alginate so I did more background research and found out that Undaria pinnatifida, a brown algae which is also invasive can be a good candidate as well. It actually benefited my project as I ended up using 2 invasive algae. 8. How do the results of your project provide a benefit to society? This research clearly shows that this bioplastic can be a great alternative to petroleum-based plastics. This bioplastic that uses invasive algae and waste corn cobs solves many environmental problems that we have. I was able to engineer the first ever antimicrobial bioplastics from invasive algae and waste corncobs. I believe that Bioplastic is the future of plastics! "

Project presentation

View Project Presentation file

Lab journal excerpts

View Lab Journal file

Research paper

View Research Paper file


  1. Muy buen proyecto con visión para enfrentar el grave problema de los microplasticos .

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