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Spring break in Dallas, Texas. Sign me up!
Water, beaches, and shorelines were a big part of the trip for one UW-Superior chemistry group. But they weren't relaxing at those locations; they were presenting their research findings on those subjects.
The American Chemical Society national convention wrapped up in Dallas, Texas and Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza led a student group to the conference to feature their plastics research on the Great Lakes and the shorelines of Lake Superior.
Junior Joe Ripley from Iron River and senior Sapanna Putthayangkul from Thailand made the trip along with Chi-Yeon Evans who graduated in December and was also involved in the research.
According to Dr. Rios this was a great opportunity for all involved, "These students are getting a chance at graduate school type of experience while still doing undergraduate work, they are doing high quality research. We are the first University to work with plastics, chemistry and their connections to Lake Superior. Canada now has a couple of schools that are also doing this his type of work."
Over 3,000 people from around the world took part in the conference and for the UW-Superior students it was a chance of lifetime.
Junior Joe Ripley was making his first trip to the Lone Star state. "I have been working on this for a few years now, it feels like a big reward to go and present and to say hey, this is what we are doing up here. I think it is really exciting because as far as I know nobody else is really looking at plastic and how it is affecting the environment."
This year the group presented their advance research results with stomach samples of fish from Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Michigan that they collected over the past two summers. They also received fish from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and they sampled both stomachs and whole fish as well.
For Ripley, a chemistry major, doing fish stomach research is a rewarding experience. "It's exciting to find something, and say yes, we are on to something here. It's an eye opener to see on the beaches and shorelines there is plastic everywhere and now it has opened my eyes to the use of plastic."
Ripley is from nearby Iron River, Wisconsin and says he really likes meeting other people who also have a passion for this kind of work. "I didn't expect to be doing research here at UW-Superior, but when I did start I thought it was really cool to do the research and get time in the lab and do this ground-breaking research. I can see how the research that we are doing is impacting the environment around us and trying to quantify the work that is being done around us."
The other UW-Superior student making her first time trip to Dallas as well was Sapanna Putthayangkul from Thailand. "I'm really excited about it, because it is a huge international conference, the first one for me. I hope the work that we did can inspire people."
Sapanna is also involved in analyzing the contents of the fish stomach work. "It has inspired me, it's so exciting. I'm learning so much." The chemistry major says you need to have patience when doing this kind of work. "More students here get a high chance to learn the real research experience from professors due to the one-on-one dedicated faculty here at UW-Superior."
Dr. Rios is also working with the University of Arizona to collaborate some of the results they are finding here at UW-Superior. In the future, she will again be working the University of Michigan to collect future samples on the Great Lakes. She likes the opportunity she has here at UW-Superior to connect with students. "I would like to continue to work with students because they can see it; they have a huge opportunity here."
A spring break trip without the beaches, sand, and shoreline that won't soon be forgotten!
For more on their research and a summary report, read below:
Synthetic microplastics in the Great Lakes: Are fish eating them?
Lorena M. Rios Mendoza, Chi-Yeon Evans, Joseph Ripley, and Sapanna Putthayangkul
University of Wisconsin Superior. Superior, WI
Synthetic microplastic particles are found in aquatic systems and they can be considered as emerging micro-pollutants. The incidence and accumulation of microplastics (< 5mm) create significant risks to the ocean and now the Great Lakes environment because of the known potential of these microplastics to adsorb persistent organic pollutants that can harm aquatic organisms. An alarm has emerged with the discovery of plastic not visible by the naked eye on the Great Lakes waters. Plastic photodegrades so slowly that it effectively never disappears, it only disperses. Lake Superior has visible plastic debris on remote and otherwise pristine beaches and shorelines. The objective of this research is to provide a basic assessment of the pollution caused by microplastic debris in the Great Lakes waters. The results presented are from 17 samples collected from August 18-27, 2013 in the Great Lakes waters as well as the analysis of 110 stomachs of fish from Lake Superior (Summer, 2012), 250 stomachs from Lake Erie (Summer, 2013), and 80 samples from shores of Lake Superior in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The plastic debris collected was classified by color, size, and chemical composition of the synthetic polymer.
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