Valparaiso University recently secured a $299,083 grant from the National Science Foundation to advance research to better understand long-term environmental impact of microplastic degradation.
The grant will fund a two-year project titled “Laboratory Radiation Chemistry Methods to Induce Rapid Aging of Microplastics in Water to Assess Fundamental Chemical Reactivity Changes,” according to Valparaiso University.
Valparaiso students and faculty will partner with faculty and students from California State University, Long Beach and researchers at Renishaw Inc. and the Idaho National Laboratory. The researchers will use specialized equipment at the University of Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory to conduct experiments to determine the changes microplastics undergo due to weathering and other processes.
The results of their analyses could lead to increased understanding of the long-term impact to ecosystems and human health.
“This grant will create additional opportunities to enrich chemistry education at Valparaiso University,” said Richard Gillman, interim provost at Valparaiso University. “Students at the undergraduate level will have the ability to conduct exciting research with globally relevant applications, enhancing their education and better equipping them for life after graduation.”
Julie Peller, professor of chemistry at Valparaiso, is the principal investigator for the grant. The project will focus on microplastic degradation in fresh-water environments.
“As radiation chemists, we can measure and demonstrate aging and degradation of microplastics in a controlled environment on a faster scale than in nature,” Peller said. “By doing that, we can study and investigate the long-term changes that take place.”
Since plastic materials are extremely stable, much of microplastics pollution has resided in the water for many decades, where it undergoes changes very slowly, the college said. However, these changes are not well understood, and may be harmful to ecosystems and human health.
This project will investigate long-term changes of microplastics in water to determine the details of the chemical changes and assess the level of hazard created from their slow breakdown, the college said.
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