Biochemical degradation of plastics (phthalates)

Speaker: Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao

Length: 9:21

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Plastic waste is everywhere, and a pair of high schoolers investigated bacteria that can degrade phthalates – a toxic component of plastic. They identified and isolated bacteria from a contaminated river that could already degrade phthalates, and found similar bacteria in landfill sites – showing bacterial are evolving to live off phthalates. They conclude we should investigate further bacteria to degrade solid waste

Critique

I think the big new point here is that bacteria exposed to phthalates have evolved to consume the toxic chemicals. The pair are obviously talented, and it will be interesting to see what future discoveries they uncover.

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Can technology solve big problems?

Speaker: Jason Pontin

Length: 10:04

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

People, politicians & investors have recently been unwilling to back big technology challenges such as the moon landing. The problems people imagined would be solved by technology (including famine, disease), due to lack of political will and public support for large scale research. Some issues such as famine are no longer technology problems, with political corruption preventing the food being distributed fairly.

Critique

Jason talked well, but the presentation lacked an idea or solution. I feel most of what he talked about is well known – that to do something big you firstly need the appetite to do it.