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Student’s Quest for Sustainable Plastics Pays Off

High school senior from Florida earns a big paycheck for pioneering a method to produce a highly durable plastic polymer that can be recycled.

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

March 14, 2024

1 Min Read
Nathan Wei award-winning science project
Society for Science

What did you do in high school? High school senor Nathan Wei of Gainesville, FL, has been busy pioneering a method to produce more durable plastic polymers that can be recycled.

That science project earned him recognition, accolades, and a cool $100,000 in the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Wei focused his research on developing a new method to create an ultra-high molecular weight polystyrene that would combine the recyclability of thermoplastics with the strength of thermoset plastics.

The material would be polymerized in a low-energy, low-cost and scalable way.

Wei also believes this approach should also work with biologically based raw materials, which would make the process even more sustainable.

There are few things hotter in our sustainably minded world than the combination of renewable materials and biopolymers.

Remarkably, he was a fourth-place finisher, which tells you about the level of competition the program from the Society for Science drew. For example, other students' winning topics centered on artificial intelligence, cancer metabolism, and mathematical optimization.

In total, $1.8 million was awarded.

Kevin Stewart, a PhD student at the University of Florida, is co-inventor of the UHMWPS.

According to organizers, Wei’s project was selected from a pool of more than 2,100 entrants, which was said to be the largest pool of applicants since the 1960s. Entrants completed original scientific research projects and an extensive application process with winners determined though scrupulous judging by leading scientists. 

It’s fair to assume these students already have a head start to make their marks in the world.

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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