By Nijel Aquino and Mary Umlas
A face mask that protects both the wearer and the environment was made possible by a student from General Santos City by harnessing natural properties of a local and familiar plant—taro.
With her research entitled as TAKIP, meaning “to cover”, Kiara Cartojano, came up with the concept of applying the hydrophobic characteristics of the natural wax found on heart-shaped taro (Alocasia macrorrhizos) leaves to cloth or cotton masks to mimic the disposable surgical masks widely used by the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cartojano worries that the existing problem with pollution is crippled by the negligence of people toward proper waste disposal of face masks.
“It will be just thrown anywhere and it will be sort of a contributing factor in the already huge [problem of] pollution that we have,” the 19-year-old student said.
The science behind TAKIP is simple: a layer of taro wax is applied to the front or outside part of a reusable cotton mask. The wax layer is naturally hydrophobic, which means it can repel water.
“The taro leaf is known for its super hydrophobic characteristic. So that means if you drop water on it, magme-maintain 'yung shape niya na round shape sa leaf,” Cartojano explained.
The widely-available disposable surgical face masks consist of three layers, with the outermost layer providing the hydrophobic protection for the wearer. The only difference is that it is a single-use product, which produces waste.
“TAKIP literally puts an outside taro wax layer sa reusable cotton face mask that we already use in order to enhance it. ‘Yung similarities niya sa disposable face mask is that ginagaya niya ‘yung outer layer ng disposable face mask, to have the same protection as ‘yung disposable face mask,” Cartojano stated, citing the similarities of TAKIP with other masks.
Since taro is a common plant in the country, Cartojano’s TAKIP face mask is not only sourced locally, but it would also have less impact on the environment because it is also used with an already available reusable cotton or cloth face mask.
As for the process of extracting the wax, Cartojano used hexane which is a chemical commonly used as a solvent. Besides hexane, a reusable cotton mask would be the only material needed in creating TAKIP, which makes it rather inexpensive to make.
The young researcher has set her heart to have passion for creating sustainable products since she was young. In fact, she started participating in research competitions as early as fourth grade due to her mom’s influence.
“I have joined research competitions ever since I was young, mga grade four siguro, and I guess 'yung mom ko, which is a major influence for that, has always been my coach in research competitions and she always challenge me to make my own research topics,” Cartojano told Manila Standard.
“[The] research that I’ve done throughout the years, it made me realize na 'yung problem as big as pollution will always be there if we don’t do something about it, so it's better to take small steps or small actions rather than do nothing at all. By that thinking I was interested in creating something for a sustainable environment,” she added.
Even though her research was merely one of her final requirements in Shalom Crest Wizard Academy last year, TAKIP took 4th place during a competition at the University of the Philippines Academic League of Chemical Engineering Students (UP ALCHEMES).
It has also received a citation in the Virtual Innovation Competition 2021 Malaysia.
“I feel grateful to compete in those competitions especially sa UP ALCHEMES because 'yung panel po noon were able to criticize my work. They were able to point out 'yung mga lacking. Through 'yung criticisms na 'yun, pwede pa pong ma-strengthen 'yung what needs to be improved sa study,” Cartojano shared.
However, she also said that she does not have any further plans for the development of TAKIP.
“So far ngayon kasi I’m quite busy sa first year college ko, so for now I really don’t have anything planned for TAKIP or if I want to pursue it, pero if opportunity arises for me to develop it, I will,” she said.
Cartojano made a similar statement when asked about the possibility of making TAKIP commercially-available, but she said that it is possibly the same with the price of a surgical face mask.
She added that there would be further research needed and other factors that need to be addressed before the possibility of making TAKIP available for the market.
“I don’t think 'yung study po mismo or 'yung concept po mismo is not in a commercial stage yet where it requires mass production, kasi po there are other factors to be investigated eh. Like if you apply taro wax, will other people have allergic reactions?” Cartojano said.
Currently, Cartojano is taking her major in fisheries at the University of the Philippines Visayas.
As she continues to follow her passion in research, she urges the youth to explore the world of science and try to take further steps to conduct their own research.
“Just try to do anything or kahit may naisip na silang concept in mind or research in mind, I think they should try to pursue it… Mag-consult din sila sa other experts like research teachers kasi maraming mga ideas unused, they just have a hard time implementing it,” she said.
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