MUNSTER | Munster High School graduate and Purdue University junior Alexander Parobek was part of a four-member team winning $20,000 for their innovative project at a recent competition sponsored by Indiana’s Soybean Alliance and Corn Marketing Council.
Parobek’s team created Sky Maize, a biodegradable fireworks casing that is lighter and less expensive than what is currently commercially available.
The Student Soybean and Corn Innovation Contest awards were announced at a reception in Indianapolis on March 20, Parobek’s 21st birthday.
Parobek’s interest in the competition began with shared ideas among him and other Purdue chemistry majors.
“Working together with these key partners in addition to an additional team member and a host of critical advisers, the development of Sky Maize became a winning success,” Parobek said. “The choice of developing a biodegradable firework casing from corn and soybean products mainly arose from a memory I retain from my childhood of watching a fireworks display with my family downwind from the spectacular explosions. That year, debris rained down on me and my family, prompting my own fascination as a child with the waste generated by such fireworks.”
Thus the Sky Maize concept was sparked.
“Seeing this idea develop from the drawing board to the final product, however, required copious amounts of time some weeks of which over 40 hours of laboratory time was undertaken by everyone in our team,” Parobek said. “The devotion and necessary communication needed to develop such a product was unprecedented in my years as a scientist, and truly tested our ability to deliver results in a timely and efficient manner.”
Parobek said its biodegradable composition, light weight and water resistivity critical for shelf life makes Sky Maize competitive with other fireworks casings.
“Such a product allows for increased revenue for firework manufacturers both in the reduced cost of fuel, and shipping needed, in addition to an increase in revenue simply from its superior price point,” Parobek said. “The Sky Maize casing design is also potentially applicable to other propelled projectiles whose need for a lightweight and biodegradable delivery system can be readily satisfied.”
Parobek’s interest in chemistry was sparked during his sophomore year at Munster High School in Jeff Graves’ chemistry class.
“Mr. Graves introduced me to the major concepts and theories of atoms and molecules, which I furthered by participating in an AP chemistry course taught by him,” Parobek said. “The interest that drove such a transition mainly was derived from my own passion for the unknown and the fundamental aspects of the world that I cannot see.”
Parobek has other mentors including Purdue professor Timothy Zwier, who aided his development as a scientist and student, and Kyung Myung, from Dow AgroSciences, who supervised his internship.
The award money will be useful for Parobek as next semester he plans to study abroad at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany.
“These winnings will act as a primary source of funding for the trip itself and eliminate the possibility of not being able to attend simply for financial reasons,” Parobek said.