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  • Teen Uses Brain

    Just the other day I was looking grimly at all the plastic bags that we accumulate at home, and thinking about that bigger-than-the-United-States-size blob of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, feeling horrible about the environment in general. Now I read about Daniel Burd, the Canadian teen who won the hell out of the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa by finding microbes that break down plastic bags in three months.


    Right the F ON, Daniel! I hope my kids are thinking like you when they’re teens. Heck, I hope one day I think like you- readers here may remember vague allusions to my own 10th grade science project- which some would call Garden Slug Torture- which even had it not failed would have not helped the environment in any way whatsoever.

    Daniel used household yeast and water in dirt to degrade the plastic, and then started tracking down the most effective bacteria, which had to be pretty exciting from a problem-solving standpoint. What gets me is that his reasoning was so simple and straightforward: plastic does eventually degrade, and microorganisms must be behind it, as they are with most things. Now, it may turn out that this is hard to replicate on a big enough scale to be used in landfills, or it makes greenhouse gases and we’re still screwed, but I think we should all turn to the engineers and scientists in Industry now and give a collective IN YOUR FACE, LABCOATS! What, do you grown-ups not have any YEAST available to you? Man, I wish Obama would select me for Vice President and put me in charge of Nerds so I could go around lording this kid’s work over everyone.* I do however feel a little bad for the runners up in the science fair, sitting there with their lame-ass styrofoam orreries and crudely drawn charts about the life-cycle of cicadas when they heard Daniel may have pointed the way to massive environmental change.

    *Come on you nerds, get busy! Stop trying to add more flavors to toothpaste! Why are you trying to make iPods even smaller? Make me a computer battery that lasts all day, Poindexter! And when you figure that out, make it big enough to use in electric cars! You in the back! Quit trying to figure out a way to stop things like kudzu from spreading! Just find something it’s useful for or make it an ingredient in a potency drug so people will go out and harvest it for us! And you next to him, find a way to get THC out of hemp and make it different colors like red or purple so John Law will stop cracking down on it and let it save the forests! Get to work(whip-crack sound)!


    Comment from Skipper Pickle
    Time: May 26, 2008, 5:58 am

    Yeah! What you said!

    Except for kudzu. The way that stuff spreads creeps me out*. Let’s keep that guy on task.


    Comment from Parker
    Time: May 26, 2008, 6:52 am

    Fair enough, we’ll double up on the kudzu duty. And this tree-stranglin’ ivy that attacks the Northwest.

    Comment from Ed Liu
    Time: May 27, 2008, 6:55 am

    The easiest solution I’ve heard lately for kudzu is goats. They’ll eat anything and will happily munch kudzu into manage-ability. If you’re one of those freaks who likes goat cheese, then using goats gets a food source and public service pizza combo.

    Sometimes, the solutions are easy. This kid seems like a combination of Thomas Edison (1% inspiration and 99% perspiration) and Reed Richards (he was a boy genius, wasn’t he?). Someone should make sure to get him a scholarship to Stanford or MIT when he’s ready to go.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: May 27, 2008, 7:48 am

    Goats probably are the perfect solution, you’re right. Plus, they’re funny.
    I think the kid got a nice pile of money!

    Comment from David Oakes
    Time: May 27, 2008, 8:16 am

    The sad thing is, nothing that he did was all that difficult. Maintaining cultures and runing plates are something they give to interns without a degree, the Microbiology equivalent of a Dental Technician. (Though exactly how he isolated his cultures may have been more clever than the article makes it sound. And bothering to look at synergistic effects bewteen species was quite clever.) But no one is going to pay PhD prices for a full year’s worth of tests, not when they could be using microbes to assemble superconcuctors or enrich uranium. Like too many problems in thw world, the solution is simple – so simple that no one can be bothered to pay to find out just how simple.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: May 27, 2008, 9:52 am

    Yes, the complementary relationship of the micromunchers was a nice bit of focusing, I agree. You have THREE junior scientists who will one day be doing this kind of duty, right?

    Comment from dusty abell
    Time: May 28, 2008, 10:15 am

    i love this blog! i find out some really interesting things here in addition to comic book stuff. thanks for highlighting daniels super achievement.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: May 28, 2008, 10:18 am

    Weird, I was just thinking about you Dusty. Mainly wondering if your Saturday Morning panorama is going to be used anywhere, I was showing my studio that yesterday.

    Comment from David Oakes
    Time: May 28, 2008, 6:50 pm

    “You have THREE junior scientists who will one day be doing this kind of duty, right?”

    The youngest will, though he will probably use something like this. The oldest will be crunching the numbers.

    The middle child will be gunning for your job in a few years…

    Comment from Dr. K
    Time: May 28, 2008, 8:08 pm

    According to this article–http://web.archive.org/web/20070515021551/http://www.med.unc.edu/alcohol/research/Overstreet/kudzu.html–kudzu can be used to relieve hangovers. That raises the question, why is there any kudzu left?