Enjoy reading about the wonderful community that has developed around this annual event.

August 31, 2018

Small Wonder: Morgan Vague Talks About the Hidden Power of Bacteria
Category: 2018 Event, News, Speaker Announcements

Morgan Vague understands bacteria. And she can relate to the way they are not given enough credit for the miraculous things they can do. She is a recent graduate from Reed College with a degree in biology, who worked her way through remedial math classes at Houston Community College. Morgan zig-zagged her way through a non-traditional educational path, but has managed to find her niche.

“I wasn’t raised to be a scientist,” Morgan recalls, “When I got to Reed, I noticed a lot of my classmates had intensive prep, advanced science and math classes and the like. I did not receive those things, and for many years, I felt like STEM, (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields were closed to me. I also felt self-conscious once I got to Reed. But through a lot of hard work, and literally studying every spare moment, I was able to catch up and learn about the beautiful intricacies of science.”

Morgan believes there is a parallel here to how society can overlook some pretty powerful and amazing things. She feels like a lot of students are labelled as either “good” or “bad” at school at far too early an age. As somebody who experienced it firsthand it bothers her, because a lot of hard subjects are entirely possible to grasp with the right support. She believes we need to stop overlooking students who struggle and labelling them as lost causes. Anyone in the world can study math and science, it just takes a lot of hard work and good support. 

Morgan’s senior thesis project involved investigating bacterial evolution. “Bacteria are tremendously adaptable organisms, and many have adapted to the high levels of pollution embattling our planet. I want to talk about how cool bacteria are,” Morgan says, “They often are overlooked, but they can do some amazing metabolic acrobatics, and they are always churning away in the background of life.” She is passionate about microbiology and understanding and utilizing the trillions of microbes that surround us. “I currently work in the field of bioremediation, fancy talk for using bacteria to fight pollution. I decided to search for those that had adapted to degrade PET plastic, and I was fortunate to find a few in my home state of Texas.”

Morgan has found two novel groups of bacteria and a novel single strain of bacteria that work together to degrade plastic waste. Properly utilized, these groups of naturally occurring
bacteria could potentially have a great impact on the current plastic pollution problem plaguing the planet.

Morgan is excited to share the idea that anyone can study STEM, no matter what their background has been, and no matter what their teachers have said. It’s never too late. It just takes a lot of hard work, persistence and support.

Meg Lamberger

Meg Lamberger is a Wayfinding Academy student and this is her first year on the TEDxMtHood planning team. When she is not super involved with all things Wayfinding or helping plan TEDxMtHood 2018, she enjoys reading and playing the guitar.