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A safer, better plastic

Rebecca Braslau UC Santa Cruz magazine

Credit: UC Santa Cruz Magazine

Preventing plastic's perils

Check out the full article, “Preventing plastic’s perils,” in UC Santa Cruz Magazine's spring 2018 issue here.

There is a toxin lurking in every household in America, and one chemist is racing to find a remedy.

Chemistry professor Rebecca Braslau, an organic chemist, has made it her mission to protect people and the environment from the problematic molecules called phthalates, which leach from aging plastic. This chemical can mimic hormones and cause health problems for people, especially children and particularly infant boys.

The daughter of an aerospace engineer father, Braslau was brought up in an upper-class neighborhood in Palos Verdes surrounded by science-minded people, but her personality as a child didn’t give any indication that she could hack it as a chemist. As a little girl, she often hid behind her mother’s leg. When her parents asked Braslau what color she wanted to paint her room, her answer was “black.” Concerned, they wondered if she needed therapy.

To Braslau, black was the majestic color of the stallions in the books she loved. When she was 13, Braslau’s parents wanted to do something special for her, so they bought her a young horse. Braslau says the gift brought about an important shift in her life.

Phthalates, which leach from aging plastic, can mimic hormones and cause health problems for people, especially children and particularly infant boys.“More than anything else, that is what changed me,” she says, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. Braslau went from being nearly bucked off the horse to riding bareback. Her personality changed from painfully shy to the confident person she is today.

“If I were still as shy, I couldn’t be a chemist,” she says, “I wouldn’t be able to collaborate, present my work, or teach classes.”

Read the full article in the spring 2018 issue of UC Santa Cruz Magazine here.