From waste to wash, students from Pasir Ris Secondary applied science to turn cooking oil into hand soap! Read on to learn what they took away from the experience, besides cleaner hands.
By Lee Qing Ping
A walk around school can do wonders. For three students from Pasir Ris Secondary School, it was the start of an award-winning science project.
Then in Secondary 3, students Lim Sing Yee, Marcus Lim and Osbert Tham were due to take part in a science competition for students from across ASEAN, China, Japan, and Korea, known as the ASEAN Plus Three Junior Science Odyssey (APT JSO). Stumped for project ideas, they went for a walk to get the scientific juices flowing.
“We were thinking of a bunch of complex ideas,” said Sing Yee, “But our teacher told us that sometimes the simplest ideas make the greatest impact.”
And it was in fact a simple, mundane act that caught their attention – canteen stall aunties throwing used cooking oil into drains and sinks. “That was when we thought: Could we repurpose the oil, so it wouldn’t be thrown into sinks, and clog pipes?” recounts Sing Yee.
After some research, they learnt about saponification, the process of converting oil into soap. “With the right steps and chemistry, this simple process could turn what was once waste, into something useful,” Marcus said. The soap could then be used to wipe down surfaces in school, or supply the hand soap used in toilets, or the washing bay in the canteen.
Osbert and Sing Yee mixing the oil with potassium hydroxide.
Science can be yucky business. Here are two beakers of oil on their way to becoming soap.
The team recording their observations.
Testing out the liquid soap.
Proof that their soap works!
They were awarded Silver at the APT JSO.
Sing Yee, Marcus and Osbert are part of the Science Experiential, Enrichment and Development (SEED) Programme in Pasir Ris Secondary, designed in tiers for students who exhibit talent in STEM research innovation and enterprise.
Ms Chua Wei Tian and the students take a team photo in their school!
“Success takes many forms,” said Osbert. “I feel that success from this event is more than just getting our medals. We are happy to have gleaned insights on other sustainability practices, generate new ideas with students from other countries, and learn from experts in the field.” The team’s next steps? To work on advocacy and roll-out the use of their liquid hand soap in school.
Footnote: APT JSO brings together students in the region skilled in science and technology. With a focus on environmental sustainability, students conduct research projects on sustainability solutions, participate in science challenges and workshops, and interact with sustainability researchers. Look out for budding scientists at the annual competition!