Alumni Update – Jacqueline Prawira – Plastic Pollution Activist

Once the STEM spark ignites, anything is possible. Jacqueline Prawira fell in love with STEM in second grade when her teacher asked tons of questions, and she conducted hands-on experiments.  When she began to learn about the lasting effects of plastics on our planet, Prawira was determined to use science and engineering to address the problem and prevent further damage.

“For the past 4 years, I’ve been dedicated to combating the plastic problem by developing alternatives to plastics from waste,” said Prawira. “My dream is to not only treat our current problems, but to attack the root cause and prevent further damage to the environment.”

Jacqueline won the Broadcom MASTERS Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation in 2018 for her performance in the competition, and her exploration on how fibers from common plant-based materials found in garbage affect plastic. Her results showed promise in upcycling cellulose fibers that would otherwise be thrown away.

Prawira’s biggest takeaways from the week-long competition at the MASTERS was the importance of teamwork and making lifelong connections.

“My team’s differences in skills and perspectives helped us achieve goals that no individual would be able to accomplish alone,” said Prawira. “Bonding with my fellow Broadcom MASTERS inspired me to reach out more and find connections in the scientific community.  Being able to connect with a multitude of fellow alumni across the nation gives me a sense of kinship, like being a wizard headed to Hogwarts.”

She brings these lessons to her current science research and an organization that she founded at her school, the Climate Change Club.  Jacqueline promotes an open-door policy for each member to contribute and offer feedback on how to increase climate awareness and fight climate change.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Prawira is using her skills and connections to make and distribute PPE to front-line workers.  With money won from previous STEM competitions including the Broadcom MASTERS, Jacqueline, alongside her brother Jordan and local software engineer Marco Walther, produced 3,340 3D-printed face shields that took 2,100 hours or 4.5 months!  The 3D-printed face shields also included QR codes for instructional videos, a datasheet on how to sanitize the face shields properly, and a personalized thank you e-note to healthcare workers.

“Spreading kindness is essential to keeping hope alive, and some of my favorite memories are seeing the reactions from medical professionals and hearing their stories,” said Prawira.

While serving the community, Prawira realized just how difficult it is to extricate plastics from our daily lives. In producing these face shields, she used so-called “biodegradable” PLA filament, which has difficulty degrading in the environment similar to the plastics that she is studying in her research.  She pivoted on her environmental quest to focus on what makes plastics so harmful – their lack of degradability.

Testing her biodegradable plastic!

“Accumulations of failed 3D prints and PLA waste pushed me to experiment on how to boost PLA degradability while preventing the loss of tensile strength in the upcycling process, using the concept of biomineralization from fish scale waste,” said Jacqueline.  She also has recently developed an alternative to thin-film plastics that she calls Cyclo Plas.

Her next step is to major in environmental science & engineering in college while inspiring others to fight against climate change and impart environmental awareness in future leaders.

“I plan to further develop new eco-friendly materials that can outperform regular plastics in physical characteristics and cost,” says Prawira. “There are so many discoveries to be made in reducing global plastic usage and containing environmental damage, and I’m ready to lead the charge.”

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