Monitoring Microplastics in Freshwater Ecosystems

Microplastic pollution

Plastic materials are a mainstay of our modern world, but the very properties that make them a reliable choice in the production of consumer goods and packaging also makes them persist in our environments beyond their intended use. Plastics do not decompose like other materials but are instead progressively worn down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually producing microplastics. These miniscule particles, micrometers or less in diameter, have reached the furthest corners of the world and accumulate in lakes, reservoirs, and watersheds. Recent studies have shown that microplastics can amass in living organisms, damaging delicate ecosystems and even humans.

Microplastics in freshwater ecosystems

In a recent podcast, Dr. Suja Sukumaran, Application Scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific, talked with Dr. Monica Arienzo, Assistant Professor at the Desert Research Institute, regarding Arienzo's research into the omnipresence of microplastics in our freshwater systems and their effects on environmental health. Dr. Arienzo reveals her initial inspiration for researching this emerging environmental science question and then outlines her acquisition and sample refinement methods. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy has been essential in her team's sample analysis, revealing microplastics in collected freshwater environment.

Dr. Arienzo highlights how local community involvement and educational outreach can be powerful tools for combatting the introduction of microplastics into the environment. She also explores the future of microplastics research and possible solutions to this growing problem, as well as achievable actions to manage microplastics in the present. 

This interview explores:

  • Evidence of microplastic pollution in our water systems
  • Sample preparation and acquisition methods used to study microplastic pollution
  • Role of citizen scientist in microplastics research

More about the speakers:

Dr. Monica Arienzo

Dr. Monica Arienzo is a Research Assistant Professor at the Desert Research Institute. Her PhD from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science focused on geochemistry. Dr. Arienzo’s breadth of academic skills includes water quality assessment, stable isotope analysis, as well as paleoclimate and environmental science. She has worked in higher education, environmental research, and the environmental services industry.

Dr. Suja Sukumaran

Dr. Suja Sukumaran is an Application Specialist with a focus of spectroscopy at Thermo Fisher Scientific. She earned her PhD in biophysics from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Germany, as part of the International Max Planck Research School. Her academic experience and expertise are in molecular spectroscopy, visible and fluorescence imaging, as well as protein and lipid biochemistry.

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