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  • Writer's pictureDereksantahoho

The beautiful plastic problem

Microplastics are everywhere. We know. Yet, scientific methodology in identifying them in a fast, reliable, and accurate manner is still lacking. My PhD work focuses on optimizing the use of the fluorescent stain, Nile Red, which binds to hydrophobic material like microplastics. When subjected to certain wavelengths of light, these microplastics glows and fluoresces brilliantly. Since all plastics have different physical, chemical and optical properties, the fluorescence of adhered Nile Red can result in a dizzying array of colors and may in fact be the key to helping us simultaneously detect and identify the plastic species without the time-consuming spectroscopic validation.

Despite their prevalence and potential harm that these microplastics may bring, these pesky particles can still be beautiful. I hope that by showcasing these previously unseen plastics, we can begin to solve this issue by first acknowledging the extent of the problem and change our own behaviors accordingly to reduce our plastic consumption and eliminate their ultimate fate as microplastics.

[Plastics in image: ABS (large red particles), Polystyrene (Orange paritcles) and PET (Red rods)]

Submitted for The Kohler Fellows and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) Art & Science competition (2022).

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