Orson Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in "Citizen Kane" when he was 26 years old. It's OK, all you folks in your mid- to late-20s, don't despair: it depresses me too. But I don't want you to feel bad for wasting your 20s, I really want you to realize you basically wasted your teen years as well. You have to hear about these 19 kids who didn't waste their youth like I did.
Kenyan teen's invention saves lions, helps farmers
13-year-old Kenyan inventor Richard Turere used broken LED flashlights to create a lighting system that tricks lions into thinking humans are patrolling the area, which is enough to keep the lions away, protecting his family's livestock (and their lives) and reducing risk of human-wildlife conflict. I once figured out how to work the S-O-S setting on my flashlight, impressing absolutely no one.
16-year-old creates wildlife tracker website
16-year old Nadav Ossendryver created Kruger Sightings, a wildlife tracker website that provides real-time animal sightings for Kruger National Park in South Africa. All I ever did was watch that classic Battle at Kruger video three times on YouTube and send the link to my friends with the subject line: WHOOOOOAAAA!
Teen finds way to decompose plastic bags
Daniel Burdidentified two strains of bacteria that work together to decompose plastic bags. I can't even remember to bring my bags to the grocery store!
Teen starts e-waste recycling business
Jason Li, a 15-year-old high school sophomore and his friends run the website iReTron.comwhere people can sell their old phones, laptops, game systems and many other gadgets and accessories to keep them out of the landfill. I still have a drawer of old chargers I can't seem to find time to deal with.
15-year-old skis to the top of the world
15-year-old explorer, Parker Liautaudattempted to be one of the youngest people ever to ski the Last Degree of the North Pole. Planet Green interviewed Liautaud following the expedition.
Teen sues states to protect climate, declare atmosphere a public trust
16-year-old Alec Loorz actually used the real-life legal system to try and save the world for the benefit of all humanity. Where were my priorities?
11-year-old gives rousing TED talk on agriculture
Anything I write here will be stupid compared to what this kid has to say. So good. Watch it.
14-year-old turns a '72 VW Beetle into an electric car
14-year-old Ashton Stark converted his grandfather's Volkswagen bug into an all-electric vehicle— and all for around $4,000. (This isn't the car, just a regular Bug.)
12-year-old starts recycling business, donates profits
After learning about the horrors of landfills, 12-year-old Sam Klein got to work reducing the amount of waste that ends up there. For the past few years, Klein has visited local businesses to collect empty printer cartridges, which he then returns to the manufacturer for recycling.
17-year-old builds 'brain' to detect breast cancer
“I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer,” Brittany Wenger told MSNBC, apparently not realizing what a crushing blow the comment would be to everyone everywhere who had wasted their youth. Check out her project at Google Science Fair.
10-year-old stops a mountain from being sold to China
After noticing some unusual new equipment near the Jarilla Mountains in New Mexico, 10-year-old Caitlyn Larson and her parents discovered a foreign company was planning to strip the mountain and send 6 million tons of ore to China. They rallied opposition and eventually helped the state of New Mexico realize that the new mining wasn't properly permitted, which has thus far saved the wildlife and vegetation that call the mountains home.
9-year-old's science fair project saves city thousands of gallons of water
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/CC
Curious how he did it? It is simple, but effective.
6-year-old who beat cancer fights to save penguins
What are we going to do without animals?' he asked. If they die, we will all die." That's heavy stuff, Aghelos.
13-year-old fights to save endangered parrots
Photo: Sirocco Kakapo/Facebook
Aaron Friedman has made it his mission to help preserve the critically endangered Kakapo parrots. "It might make a difference and at least I'll know that I've tried," says Aaron. Word.
Talented 11-year-old paints birds, raises more than $200,000 for Gulf Coast relief efforts
After getting McDonald's to switch to recycled packaging, Cole and some other friends decided to pressure KFC to stop cutting down endangered forests in North Carolina. It didn't work, but did you even try to help? Exactly.
14-year-old designs and builds windmill to generate electricity
William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, had to drop out of school in 2002, but he continued educating himself by reading science books and eventually teaching himself how to design and build windmills to provide electricity for his family. We first wrote about William in 2006, but he's since gone on to even greater things, such as writing a book, building a windmill to pump water for crop irrigation, giving a TED Talk on his experiences and even making an appearance on The Daily Show.
10-year-old's petition prompts Jamba Juice to ditch Styrofoam
0-year-old Mia Hansen.When she realized Jamba Juice was serving smoothies in Styrofoam cups, she started a petition, which eventually gained 130,000 signatures and prompted the company to change its cups to a more sustainable material. Thank you, Mia for helping us adults be less terrible.
12-year-old develops solar cell that absorbs 500 times the light of existing cells
William Yuan, a 12-year old boy from Beaverton, Ore., has developed a new 3-D solar cellwhich if it ever gets commercialized could seriously change the face of solar power."
OK, I'll just stop there. We all know there are so many more super kids who have done incredible things that will just make us feel less accomplished. Now that we're sufficiently demoralized, let's go out and show these kids what adults with more money, education and power can accomplish! Let's show these kids who's boss!
Read about other innovators and fresh ideas at The Leaderboard. And if you have a story suggestion for the year-long project, please contact us and share your idea.
Related stories about teens on MNN:
- Teens Turning Green launches Project Green Challenge
- Teen convinces Seventeen magazine to stop Photoshopping models
This story was originally written for Treehugger. Copyright 2012.