Biospheric Microplastics Project Update

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Image: A post it note exercise from the sandpit event

Hello from the Biospheric Microplastics research team,

We’ve had a busy few months:

We held our first sandpit event on the 1st Sept which saw over 30 staff from across UWE Bristol come together to discuss microplastics. The sandpit was attended by academic, technical and professional services staff.

The event included lighting talks from Dr Adam Thomas, Paul Bowdler, Professor Tim Cox and Dr Budi Chandra. During the event we generated research ideas and identified research teams with the expertise to drive future funding proposals.

Our Research Fellow, Freya has been conducting some exciting method development work in the lab on the FT-IR, Raman and pyrolysis GC-MS. Her method of development centres around creating a process to quickly and efficiently identify microplastics using pyrolysis GC-MS, which can then be applied to a network of air quality samples around the country to determine microplastics contamination in the air.

Plastic debris collected from a strand line

This month we also started our ‘Reading for STEM’ project which is funded by the VC’s Challenge Fund. The team is an interdisciplinary team including Dr Fay Lewis, Dr Jane Carter, Dr Stephanie Sargeant, Dr Debbie Lewis, and Dr Juliet Edmonds.

The idea of the project is to make science literacy in primary schools more accessible and to encourage more young children into science – removing the mad hatter syndrome. The project plans to:

  • Bring together expertise from across UWE Bristol; Education, English & Science
  • Turn STEM into STEAM- science based literary materials
  • Include biography, poetry, play, letter, narrative and comic when talking about STEM
  • Take current UWE Bristol research & Talent and embed our novel plastic pollution research into literary forms

Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster July 2022: Festival of Nature and other activities

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We have been incredibly busy over the past few months getting involved in public engagement activities, working with schools to educate young children and continuing our important research in the Biospheric Microplastics field.

In June, the team headed to the Festival of Nature to deliver activities aimed at educating young children about Microplastics.

The team had several activities that all helped to demostrate the importance and dangers of Microplastics. There was a sandpit with coloured beads representing different types of microplastics that users could hunt and apportion to those microplastics, as well as microscopes for people to see what microplastics looked like close up. Additionally there was a UV light to bring hidden microplastics to life and colouring in tables where they could draw or colour in their own microplastics

The team encouraged visitors to use a letterbox so that the pictures could be used in the future school packs we are developing.

Ben with schoolchildren in Ysgol Llanhari in Wales, answering questions about air pollution

Ben has been invited to give a Keynote at the PlasticsFuture Conference 2022 and has also joined the editorial board of Cambridge University Press’s new Prisms:Plastics Journal.

The team have been busy developing several microplastics PhD opportunities which we will share as soon as possible.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you soon. Have a lovely Summer.

Ben, Steph and Freya

Meet the team: Freya Radford

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We recently appointed Freya Radford to the team as a Biospheric Microplastics Research Fellow. Below Freya shares a bit on her background and her work:

I have recently joined UWE as a Biospheric Microplastics Research Fellow to work on developing microplastics research within the cluster.

I have a degree in marine biology and have experience working as an aquatic ecotoxicologist investigating the impacts of pesticides and herbicides on freshwater communities.

Recently, I have completed my PhD which focused on microplastic contamination in soils. This ranged from developing analytical methods for extracting microplastics from soils to quantifying and characterising microplastics in soils with a focus on sewage sludge as a source.

I have also had experience working on microplastic projects in tropical seagrass systems and identifying microplastics in wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, I have helped supervise several masters projects looking at macrolitter in hedgerows, the impacts of microplastics on plants and the presence of microplastics in a range of river environments.

My research interests lie in investigating the impacts of anthropogenic contaminants on the environment. I am particularly interested in quantification and characterisation of contaminants to determine source and sink dynamics as well as determining their ecotoxicological effects.

I am currently working on developing research to address critical gaps in the microplastics research landscape. This will involve developing new methods for microplastic detection in a range of samples (air, soil, and water) using a variety of identification methods. In addition to this I will be working towards identifying microplastic sources, transport mechanisms and potential hazards.

Research cluster update March 2022

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By Dr Ben Williams

Welcome back to another update of everything we have been up to for our Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster over the past month:

  • We have recruited our Biospheric Microplastics Research Fellow. The new fellow will start in early May and will be crucial to helping us develop the research in our cluster further
  • We’ve recently submitted an EOI for a project focusing on the detection and characterisation of the impact of airborne Microplastics on human health
  • My MSc project students are finalising their dissertation topic proposals this month, with two looking at microplastics in the Frome river, one looking at microplastic deposition as people eat food on campus and two others looking at regional recycling regimes
  • Two current students are submitting their dissertations this month on microplastics. 1 MSc student (Sayda Shejuti) has systematically reviewed analytical approaches across the microplastics landscape, and an undergraduate student (Thilini Seneviratne) is finishing up her study on microplastic contamination along a Sri Lankan beachfront, onto which a ship spilled plastic nurdles and other microplastics.

We look forward to sharing more with you as our research develops.

Biospheric Microplastics project update

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As you will know from reading our first blog, we recently launched the Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster. Over the past few weeks we have been busily working away on our cluster and we thought we’d share with you some updates:

Recruitment

We’re currently mid-way through recruitment of a Research Fellow in Biospheric Microplastics. The successful candidate will work across the institution and play an integral role in the cluster, supporting us to achieve our aims to address critical gaps in the microplastics research landscape. This is a really exciting step for us as a cluster.

Student research

We currently have 5 undergraduate and 12 postgraduate research projects investigating a range of microplastic research questions. It’s been great to get our students involved with our research and see them be as passionate as we are about microplastics. We’ve included some pictures below of one of our students conducting research in the field.

Opportunities to join the cluster

We have several opportunities to join our research cluster on our MRes Applied Sciences programme, titles and programme link below. Please contact Dr Stephanie Sargeant for more information. All titles are part of the UWE Bristol Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster (UWE BMRC):

  • Modelling airborne microplastic dispersion
  • Investigating the plastisphere: microbial communities on plastic debris
  • Developing standardised methods for airborne microplastic sampling and analysis
  • Quantifying the role of macroalgae in trapping and accumulating microplastics
  • Investigating the human health implications of environmentally sourced airborne  microplastics
  • UWE Bristol MRes Applied Sciences: course details

We look forward to sharing more updates with you soon,

Dr Stephanie Sargent and Dr Ben Williams

Welcome to the Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster (BMRC) blog

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Welcome to the Biospheric Microplastics Research Cluster (BMRC) blog where we plan to share with you the latest updates from the BMRC.

Microplastic pollution is a considerable emerging health and ecological crisis on a global scale. The BMRC, building on microplastic research across UWE Bristol, aims to address critical gaps in the microplastics research landscape, notably the association between environmental exposure to microplastics through source, pathway, receptor relationships, and their potential to cause harm.

The BMRC brings together expertise from multiple disciplines, all of which play a crucial role in understanding the impact of microplastics on human and ecosystem health, expanding research excellence and enhancing teaching across the university landscape.

Through understanding the human and ecosystem health implications of plastics, there is an opportunity to contribute to their redesign, reuse and replacement throughout society. The research ambitions of the BMRC closely align with the UWE Bristol 2030 Strategy and at an organisational level UWE Bristol has pledged its support to the UK Plastic Pact.

Supporting and developing researchers of the future is a core value of this cluster and is integral to the success of this project. The range of expertise and experience (Research Fellow to Professor) brought together by this cluster provides a unique and powerful perspective to yield a significant impact on this novel field of research. The cluster is led by Dr Ben Williams, Senior Research Fellow and Dr Stephanie Sargeant, Senior Lecturer.  

The BMRC will bring together and draw on existing networks, including those with the Microfibre Consortium, UK/China microplastics network, UK Environmental Mutagen Society, but will also establish new networks through activities including the development and chairing of a cross disciplinary microplastics conference.

The diversity of opportunity will ensure that skills, knowledge and expertise are not just embedded in the current cluster, but in building upon existing research excellence and developing the next generation of researchers at UWE Bristol.

We look forward to sharing with you developments from this research cluster.


This research cluster is funded through the Expanding Research Excellence scheme at UWE Bristol. The scheme aims to support and develop interdisciplinary, challenge-led research across the University. It is designed to bring together research clusters or networks that will work together to respond to challenges (local, regional, national, global) aligned with major research themes.

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