Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020MA003B

Microplastic Pollution in Freshwater Systems: Impacts of Biofilm Formation on Microplastic Surface

Institute: Massachuseits
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $10,138

Principal Investigators: Wan-Ting (Grace) Chen

Abstract: Microplastics are a ubiquitous form of pollution with complex and significant effects (many negative) on the environment around them. For this reason, research in the quantification of microplastics has bloomed in recent years. We, however, hope to contribute to the mitigation of plastic pollution in general by supporting research about extraction of microplastics from the environment.To improve extraction methods of microplastics, we hope to utilize specialized characterization equipment to measure the surface properties of environmentally-modified virgin plastic pellets. This is because the surface properties of microplastics are likely one of the largest determinants of the effectiveness of modern microplastic extraction methods. The growth of biofilms on microplastics makes extraction of microplastics from the environment challenging. Better understanding of biofilm deposition phenomena would be critical for developing effective extraction methods to separate microplastics.Herein, we will study how biofilm impacts the surface characteristics of MPs in freshwater systems. The surface characteristics (morphology, surface charge, chemical functional groups) and the particle size distribution of MPs will be evaluated. The results from this project would be critical for developing microplastic extraction methods from the environment.We believe that our background gives us many advantages in the study of microplastics that wouldensure that any awarded funds would be put to good use:• We have an accepted publication (publication date: December 2019) in Journal ofRenewable Materials. It is a review paper about the effects microplastic pollution in theenvironment.• We have the potential to leverage this funding and combine forces with NIST to offerbetter characterization of microplastic surfaces. This could also lead to more potentialcollaboration between NIST and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.• We have experience in the sampling of microplastics and access to the required materialsfor the experiment.Any awarded funding would allow us to:• Start this project as a seed of further research in this area.• Allow us to purchase materials for experimental protocol development.• Educate the next generation of scientists/engineers.