Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao

Science fair winners
Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao have identified a new bacteria that breaks down nasty compounds called phthalates, common to flexible plastics and linked to health problems. And they’re still teenagers.

Why you should listen

After a visit to a plastic-filled waste transfer station last year, students Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao learned that much of the plastic in trash may not degrade for 5,000 years. Synthesized into plastics are phthalates, compounds that make shower curtain liners, food wraps and other products bendable but may also adversely impact human reproductive development and health.  As plastics slowly break down, these phthalates would leach into the surrounding environment.

So, the two young scientists tackled the problem and ultimately discovered strains of bacteria that have the potential to naturally degrade phthalates. Their work earned a regional first place in British Columbia for the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, as well as a special award for the most commercial potential at the contest’s finals.

What others say

“[Wang and Yao] came up with the research idea and the underlying experimental design, which is remarkable for such young people.” — Lindsay Eltis, University of British Columbia, The Vancouver Sun 5/3/2012

Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao’s TED talks

Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao on the TED Blog

News

Sustain!: The speakers in Session 7 at TED2013

February 27, 2013

It’s no longer possible to ignore the effect humans have — on the environment, on each other and on the Internet. In that spirit, this session brings together people with big ideas on responsible design, creation, consumption and eating. From a renegade gardener to energy software maker, this session takes into mind that it’s not […]

Continue reading