Food & DrinkThe Spanish student who prolongs the life of food...

The Spanish student who prolongs the life of food with a homemade machine

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His name is Maitane Alonso and he is one of the great scientific promises of the moment. She is Spanish, from Bilbao. There, in her house, together with her family, is where the idea arose.

They were having hamburgers for breakfast. They were leftovers from a barbecue the day before. “There are five of us, but my father cooks like for the whole town,” the young woman jokes. At that moment she asked herself: “Why are we taking them now? So they don’t get spoiled?” Yes, that was the reason. And here I begin the investigation of her.

How much food is wasted? To his surprise, he learned that, according to the latest study by the FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization), one third of the food produced in the world is wasted. What comes to be about 1,300 million tons per year.

The figures are staggering. Even more so if we take into account the number of people who starve, or those who do so or get sick from having expired food. According to a WHO report, each year about 600 million people – almost one in 10 inhabitants – get sick from eating bad food. And of them, about half a million die.

He set out to help solve the problem. Is it possible to extend the expiration of food? The key may be in the packaging. This is what Maitane Alonso thought, that she began to test with everyday objects that she had in her house to find a new technique. Above all, she wanted to avoid chemicals, such as glyphosate, which are used in food despite having negative effects on our health.

In the end, the idea came to him alone. He says that there were some of his brother’s shoes that smelled very strong: “He is a footballer. His shirts were near a generator that we have at home that emits electric shocks. So, I noticed that, after a short time, the smell disappeared.” Like by magic. The reason? Electrical discharges dissociate air molecules and in doing so kill microorganisms and bacteria.

With this same concept, he has created an electrical discharge machine, the size of a microwave, which dissociates air molecules from food and, in this way, extends its life naturally, without resorting to chemicals.

Maitane Alonso invented this system three years ago. Since then, he has submitted it to various contests.

From the regional to the national level

The first was in his city, in the Basque contest Zientzia Azoka de Elhuyar. He got first prize.

This gave him a pass to another fair, but of a national character, the Exporecerca Jove, where he also obtained first place.

From Spain to Chile, con to NASA

From there he gained access to an exhibition of inventions in Chile, where he was able to present his machine to representatives of NASA. A very enriching experience, he admits, from which he “learned a lot.”

Upon returning, he gave his invention a spin. He realized that the problem of expired food is not limited to homes, but also affects large companies. Therefore, he started working on a second version, this time for commercial and industrial use.

An update, with more resources

It coincided with his start at the university. At that time, he was starting his first Medicine course at the University of the Basque Country (UPV). There, thanks to the laboratory’s tools and the collaboration of various companies, such as Kilse, J-Pack and Eurozone, and his municipality, he was able to perfect this second version. With more exact calculations than at home, I estimate that his machine can eliminate up to 75% of microorganisms .

With it, he re-presented himself at the Exporecerca Jove national fair, where he won again and also the distinction of the Catalan Biology Society.

Trip to USA

The prize allowed him to fly to the United States, to Arizona, where the Intel ISEF is held, the most important science and technology fair in the world and organized by the prestigious MIT. As expected, the level in this competition is very high: the best of each country go. Specifically, from 80 countries and more than 1,800 people participate.

Well, Maitane did it again. In the 2018-2019 edition, she was crowned champion again, obtaining first position in Sustainability and second in Microbiology. As a prize, NASA will name a meteorite after her.

Next steps

Grateful and even surprised by all the recognitions, she assures that she hopes to continue her medical career while combining it with research. But she’s not just about food, because she wants to specialize in Oncology and dreams of finding a cure for cancer. This is her next goal.

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