Florian debuts on Home Learning TV with Nanogirl
5 May 2020
Scion Science Leader Dr Florian Graichen debuted on the new Home Learning TV channel on Tuesday. Florian was a visitor on the Senior Science show hosted by Dr Michelle Dickinson aka, Nanogirl.
The experience was a great opportunity for Florian to show how a childhood love of mixing potions as a kid can grow into a love of chemistry and a career in biochemistry.
Florian told Michelle that his work involves looking at the building blocks of plastic, carbon, and thinking about all the ways we can reuse this carbon. “What we try to do is to make sure that everything that can be made from fossil fuels today can be made from a tree tomorrow.
“Nearly all of the plastics we have now are made from crude oil. What we are trying to do is design new plastics, new materials, that could come from trees, from other plants, from algae, anything that grows above the ground, basically.”
“We can take a tree, we take it apart, we apply heat, pressure, enzymes, catalysts, water, or other things, and break it into its fundamental building blocks. It’s like taking a big Lego set apart. Then we take these individual Lego blocks and build plastic-like materials, new products, into something that you couldn’t even make from crude oil. So, it’s not just replacing plastic, it’s making better things.”
These new materials use elements from nature, and are also inspired by nature. Florian explains: “We are looking at what people call waste and using it in materials, using it in products.”
For example, the kiwifruit spoon-knife (Zespri’s spife) is made with a combination of bioplastic and small bits of kiwifruit skin that would otherwise be thrown away. “We are avoiding waste, and making a much more interesting product.”
As his final message for the audience, Florian said he wants people to understand “that plastic is not the problem, it’s what we do with it.
“Plastic can save lives. It is saving lives, in the medical world. It saves energy, if you look at the next generation of planes, the Dreamliner, the A350, 50-80 per cent of these planes are made from plastic, or plastic composites, and they make it much lighter and fuel efficient.”
To the budding scientists watching the show, Florian confessed that chemistry was not his first dream job. His childhood aspiration of becoming an astronaut has stayed with him, and, as Michelle reminded him, “It’s never too late.”