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Teen Solves Pothole Problem with Chicken Feathers

A Canadian high school student’s science fair project will probably fix your city’s streets.

Screencap from the Montreal Gazette video.

David Ballas, 14 years old, hates potholes just like everybody else, but unlike the rest us lousy layabouts, he decided to do something about it. For his science fair project, the Canadian high school student set out to solve the nation’s perennial pothole problem—and the answer he came to was chicken feathers. Ballas’ winning formula was a mixture that comprised of 98 percent asphalt and two percent chicken feathers.

There’s a pretty simple explanation for why this works. Chicken feathers are made up of a protein called keratin, which makes the feathers hydrophobic, or resistant to water. The feathers in the asphalt will block water from passing through the ground. Potholes are often formed when water gets in the cracks and weakens the asphalt, or freezes up during the winter and cracks the blacktop.

The solution is brilliant for its simplicity and for its resourcefulness. According to Ballas, the city of Quebec alone produces more than 5 million tons of chicken feathers. A single box of feathers, valued at $11, could pave a whole street.

“I didn’t want to get them from a chicken farm that killed chickens until I knew my project actually worked,” Ballas told the Montreal Gazette. “And it couldn’t be duck feathers, it had to be chicken feathers. So I got them from a cruelty-free farm in the U.S. and paid $11 for a box.”

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