STEAM in History: Elif Bilgin

STEAM in History: Elif Bilgin

What if banana peels helped rid the environment of harmful plastics? It’s an idea that seems, well, bananas! But that didn’t stop Elif Bilgin from taking home the title of Google Science Fair winner at just 14 years old.

Bilgin’s story encourages learners to be resilient and pursue creativity. She’s inspirational to young inventors who, though they may fear failure, dare to dream big. Read on to discover how her journey through the engineering design process can impact your next STEAM lesson.

An ApPEELing New Bioplastic:

Elif Bilgin loved to read. As early as age 4, she was reading books that sparked her curiosity and passion for science. Everyday problems were exciting challenges begging for a solution. For example, by age 8, she had designed windshield wipers for her glasses, allowing her to see better on rainy days. No idea was too small or too silly to tackle.

As she grew older, more complex problems captured her attention. Bilgin loved the views of the Bosphorus Strait in her home of Istanbul, Turkey. From a distance, the waterway was stunning, but up close, plastic waste muddled its beauty. She decided to do something to help.

After much analysis, bioplastics seemed like the ideal solution. Natural resources make bioplastics easier to break down in the environment. Bilgin came across potato-made bioplastic in her research. Her idea was to further reduce pollution using organic waste materials instead. She began testing different fruit peels rich in starch and cellulose, two components of an effective bioplastic. Ultimately, the banana peel seemed the most viable option.

Bilgin turned her family’s kitchen into a science lab. Though many of her tests throughout 2 years of work failed, 2 out of 10 resulted in banana peel-made plastics. Still, she had more to do. She noticed the plastic from her successful experiments began to decay and needed to improve her design. Bilgin discovered that dipping banana peels in a solution before boiling, pureeing and baking them prevented decay (TEDxTalks, 2013). Her persistence paid off.

After her project won the 2013 Google Science Fair, its Voters’ Choice Award, and the Scientific American Magazine’s Science in Action Award, Bilgin joked, “...hey, even Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’”

Engaging Learners in the Engineering Design Process:

Elif Bilgin persevered until she found a solution to the problem she wanted to solve. Why not share her story with learners and inspire them to do the same?

Give it a try! Break down her experiment for an excellent example of the engineering design process. As you share her story, discuss each step with your learners:

  1. Ask: What problem did Bilgin decide to solve?
  2. Imagine and Explore: What possible solutions did she consider?
  3. Design: What idea did she choose to pursue? Why?
  4. Make a Prototype: What experiment did she create?
  5. Test: What were the strengths and weaknesses of her method?
  6. Evaluate: How did she improve her method?

For more, check out:

Click for free printable posters and trading cards about Elif Bilgin and more STEAM role models to share with your learners!

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Hands-On Engineering Design:

Discover Engineering and Drone Designers immerse learners in the engineering design process.

From step-by-step lessons to exciting design challenges, both offer innovative ways to teach a life-long skill your learners will never forget. Click the images below to learn more!

More STEAM Role-Models:

Click the links below to learn about more inspiring, diverse STEAM role models:

Author: Jessica Ventre

An experienced elementary educator and science instructional coach, Jessica’s passion for STEM instruction and student-led learning is always at the forefront of her lessons and professional development workshops.

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Elif Bilgin. (2022). Retrieved November 3, 2022, from

inspirationofboredom. (2013, April 21). Draw my project! YouTube. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

TEDxTalks. (2013, December 9). Going bananas: Redefining plastics: Elif Bilgin at TEDxvienna. YouTube. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from