Published 12:00 am Monday, August 12, 2013

CHINA GROVE — A local student could win $5,000 in a national contest this week if she gets enough online votes for her soapy scientific study.

For Kennedy Kirkman’s latest science fair project at Enochville Elementary School, she created her own laundry detergent and deodorant from 100 percent natural ingredients.

“I like the fact that it’s all-natural, so it doesn’t harm the environment or animals,” she said. “I just really like animals. I want to be a marine biologist or a veterinarian when I get older.”

Kennedy won the science fair at the school, county and district levels this past year. She was mentioned as a project of distinction at the regional fair but was not named to go on to the state competition.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Kennedy decided to enter her project in a national competition she heard about through Horizons Unlimited. The After School Awards program, sponsored by J.C. Penney and Izod, recognizes students for innovative projects in science, music and the arts, sports and community service.

Kennedy was selected as one of three national finalists in the contest. Now, she needs to earn the most votes to win the grand prize — a $5,000 scholarship.

Every day through this Wednesday, supporters can vote on the After School Awards website, Each virtual ballot must include a vote in all four categories.

The winner will be announced Friday.

“When I found out I made the After School Awards, I was really excited,” Kennedy said. “It feels like it’s more than what I would have won at the state science fair.”

Kennedy, who will be attending sixth grade at Corriher-Lipe Middle School in the fall, has placed in the past three science fairs at Enochville Elementary. She won the last two.

She said she got the idea for this year’s project after finding out that store-bought products often contain chemicals that are harmful to people and animals.

Kennedy said common deodorant ingredients like aluminum and silica have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer, even though deodorant use itself has not. Many laundry detergents also contain harsh chemicals that can hurt both humans and fish, she said.

To make sure that her all-natural creations actually work, Kennedy conducted experiments at home with the help of her family.

For the laundry detergent, she said she dirtied two socks with pizza, grape juice and ketchup.

She then tested her homemade formula against a name brand detergent with no added fragrances or dyes. A cold water wash failed to get either of the socks completely clean, but the results were virtually identical.

Another wash with warm water got out almost all of the stains, and Kennedy’s detergent actually seemed to perform a little better than the store-bought one.

Kennedy said her father, Ricky, served as a test subject for her deodorant, which contains baking soda, cornstarch, tea tree oil and coconut oil.

After taking a shower, he applied his regular deodorant under one arm and the homemade product under the other. He then ran for 30 minutes on the treadmill, and Kennedy performed the scientific task of comparing the odor on either side.

“It worked just as well as his chemical deodorant, so now we use that,” said Rindy Kirkman, Kennedy’s mother.

She said the family also has switched to the all-natural detergent, which includes mango orange soap from Burt’s Bees, a North Carolina-based company.

“I’m quite impressed and proud,” Kirkman said. “I played with Barbie dolls until the 8th grade. I was not school-oriented. … I enjoyed history and literature. She is into science and always has been since I can remember. She has always wanted to work with animals.”

Kennedy’s family said she stopped eating meat at three years old, before she could even pronounce the word “vegetarian.”

“For Valentine’s Day dinner, I made whole cornish game hens,” Kirkman said. “She thought they were baby chickens. … She just looked at it, slid it over and ate her salad instead.”

Neither Kennedy nor her mother know what else might have inspired her to become a vegetarian. But since then, she has refused to touch most meat, though she will occasionally eat fish.

As she grows up, Kennedy has followed her passions both in and out of school. Last summer she visited a manatee rescue in Florida and got to swim with the acquatic mammals.

Kennedy also has transformed her science project into a budding business. She calls it “Wise Owl,” to represent both her elementary school’s mascot and the “wise choice” of using all-natural products.

She sells the containers of detergent and deodorant for $1 each, and she’s saving up money for a donation to the N.C Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. She hopes to visit in September or October, when the sea turtles hatch along the coast.

Kennedy’s next goal will be saving enough money to attend N.C. Sea Turtle Camp next summer, where she can work with the endangered animals up close.

So far, the business has grown by word-of-mouth, but she hopes to start a Facebook page.

To purchase or ask questions about Wise Owl products, email

For more information about the After School Awards, visit