SFS Faculty Receives NSF Funding to Study Microplastics and Nanoplastics

Professor Laodong Guo has received $360,805 from the Division of Chemistry-National Science Foundation to study how microplastics and nanoplastics degrade in aquatic environments.

These tiny plastics are ubiquitous, persistent and toxic in aquatic environments and have become recognized as emerging contaminants. Not only have microplastics been widely documented in fish, air and natural waters, including river, lake, ocean and groundwater, but they have been found in drinking water, sewage, soil and sediment.

“Their prevalence raises significant concerns about possible implications for ecosystem and human health,” Guo says.

One of the most abundant sources of microplastics and microfibers are synthetic textiles used in clothing and other fabrics. Despite their prevalence, little is known about the fundamental environmental chemistry of micro- and nano-plastics and how they behave as they break down in aquatic environments, a process known as weathering.

To fill the knowledge gap, Guo’s lab will conduct the proposed research using controlled laboratory experiments. They hope to elucidate whether photochemical processes may lead to complete degradation of these plastics into truly dissolved organic molecules and/or the production of nanoplastics. Results could provide insight into the environmental behavior of these plastics.

“Our research will provide an improved understanding of chemical reactivities of microplastics and nanoplastics and their environmental chemistry, fate and transport, and will shed new light on their role as vectors for the transport of other chemical species and organic pollutants in the environment,” Guo says.