Year 11 students’ sustainable flavonoid soap wins the Davidson Inventors Challenge 2023

Article by Kerry Hebden

FABNOIDS, a team of year 11 students from the Benenden School in Cranbrook, UK has won this year’s Davidson Inventors Challenge for developing soaps that reduce the risk of infections using sustainable flavonoids and other ingredients that do not contain harmful chemicals. 

Launched by the University of Cambridge in 2020, the Davidson Inventors Challenge aims is to encourage 14- to 17-year-old UK students to use chemical engineering problem-solving skills to develop an innovative solution that addresses one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

For their project, FABnoids chose to focus on SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all, at all ages. 

Recognising that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared bacterial resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development, the team created soaps made from sustainable flavonoids to help reduce the spread of bacteria on hands, therefore limiting infections.  

Flavonoids are a group of natural polyphenol substances abundant in fruits, grains, vegetables and tea. In plants, they perform many functions like regulating cell growth, and protecting against biotic and abiotic stresses. 

According to researchers, flavonoids are now considered an indispensable component in a variety of nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, medicinal, and cosmetic applications due to their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties. 

Along with being sustainable, the winning team’s flavonoid soaps, were made using plants such as onions, blackberry, and dill, which do not contain harmful chemicals.  

FABnoids were one of four finalists out of 103 team submissions originally received. The other three finalists were: Team Sustainors (year 12) from Leicester Grammar School with a system that removes microplastics from large bodies of water in a sustainable way; Team Javelin (year 12) from Tiffin Girls’ School, which designed biodegradable contact lenses with full-circle packaging; and Team Muffene (year 12) from Westminster School with a method for cleaning water using molluscs and graphene oxide. 

The online final was attended by the four finalist teams, as well as students from other participating schools, department members and alumni in the industry. Deborah Grubbe, an alumni, and Peter Davidson, son of professor John Davidson, whom the challenge is named after, gave talks. So too did current IChemE president Nigel Hirst, who in his closing remarks, pointed out that there is no better time than now for young people to join chemical engineering. 

The Davidson Inventors Challenge is an annual UK-wide STEM innovation competition hosted in collaboration with IChemE, The Association of Science, and Technology & Innovation (ASTI) in Malaysia. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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