In 12th grade, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao visited a waste transfer station and saw a shocking pile of plastic waste.  Then the pair learned that much of the plastic in trash may not degrade for 5,000 years.  So they took it upon themselves to search for a bacteria that could break down plastics in the environment.  After a series of accidents, they found an answer surprisingly close to home.

Wang and Yao went in search of a bacteria that could biodegrade phthalates - the particularly harmful components of many plastics that have been known to leach into the environment and into human bodies.  Phthalates have been linked to everything from high blood pressure to ADHD to breast enlargement in young boys.  Through their research, Wang and Yao were able to identify several strains of bacteria already living in their local environment that may in fact thrive on the consumption of phthalates.

You might need your Organic Chemistry book to follow along with this TED presentation, but even if you can't follow all of the names and processes, give it a watch if for no other reason than to see two young women explain in step by step detail how they fell in love with science.  Check it out in the video below:

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Teen scientists identify phthalate-eating bacteria
In their last year of high school, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao went looking for a solution to their town's plastic waste problem, and found one close to home.