Kareena Kanumury of MICDS

This fall, Kareena Kanumury will be a senior at Mary Institute and County Day School. While she’s looking forward to graduation, she’s also focused on the big picture—like globally big, To help fight climate change, she developed a bio-based plastic that is accessible, affordable and biodegradable. Her project has competed regionally and internationally as part of the Genius Olympiad, and it also has received recognition from groups like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and companies like Bayer and Ricoh.

Where did your interest in science come from?
I’ve always had an interest. At school, there are a lot of STEM-related activities, and I enjoy participating. My interest in science and math grew the more I got involved. In middle school, I did the science fair for the first time. I didn’t win anything, but I really liked the experience.

Why is sustainability an important issue to you?
I see a lot of my peers going toward medicine. That was my plan as well, but then, I started learning about environmental science. I realized just how big of an issue it is. You see companies making promises and launching green initiatives all the time. If we are surrounded by so many potential solutions, why aren’t they working and why are we still dealing with so many big issues?

Tell me about your bioplastic.
We’re facing a plastic crisis. It’s such a cheap, durable and versatile material, but it doesn’t degrade, so in the end, we’ll be drowning in plastic products. We do have bioplastics, which are degradable, but they release harmful chemicals into the environment. They offer a short-term solution but come with more long-term problems. I wanted to create something that could degrade safely while also being cheap enough to be a viable alternative. I started this project during the pandemic, so I had to turn my kitchen into a lab. I looked at using ingredients you can find at the grocery store. I wanted to use commonly wasted foods because that is another big problem we’re facing. Bread ended up being a major component. I came up with a material that is more eco-friendly and cheaper than most bioplastics.

What are the next steps for your project?
I think it has the potential to be a really versatile product, so I want to pursue it further in college. Hopefully, I can eventually get it to the market. I also want to make sure it’s safe to consume for marine life since so much plastic ends up in the ocean. Ideally, it will decompose safely without harming any ecosystem.

What are you looking forward to about senior year?
I’m kind of looking forward to just reaching the finish line. I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life. I want to enjoy those final memories of high school, graduation and all the traditions MICDS has. I can’t wait to pass the torch onto the next class.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I really love playing squash. I’m on my school’s team, and we’re very close, almost like a group of sisters. I’ve also done Indian classical dance for years. I’ll be graduating from that next year, too. It’s been such a great experience, getting to know my culture in a different way. I also love watching movies—I can’t wait for the next Marvel film!