Hey all, it’s that time again to update you on what we’ve been up to here at PolyGone Tech! The new co-op students, Alina and Emily have been busy with dyeing, analyzing and lots of research to further our microplastic knowledge!
My name is Alina and I finished my first year of Nanotechnology Engineering. My 3D modelling and electrical experience has helped with the hardware side of things here at PolyGone. I am currently working on designing and automating a microscope stand to efficiently capture images of microplastics. Of course, I have learnt ample along the way such as analyzing research papers and have more lab experience than ever!
My name is Emily and I am just finishing up my third year of Medicinal Chemistry here at the University of Waterloo. Since I have a lot of lab experience, I am very interested in how different plastic polymers interact with the dye we use as well as the different ways to separate them out of solution and analyzing techniques.
We started the term where Lorien left off, reading over her literature collection and building off the foundation she left for us!
After reading over the literature and gaining a solid background knowledge on microplastics, dyeing and detection techniques, we took off running.
Our first step was to start dyeing virgin plastics to make them fluoresce. When dyeing these plastics, we realized that a lot of different factors like, dye concentration, solvent type, incubation time, temperature, etc. play into how well the dye works. After playing around with different combinations of these factors, we were able to make all our virgin plastics fluoresce!
Once we obtained many samples, we began our photography and documentation steps. After taking what seemed like a thousand pictures, we realized that taking pictures by hand was very tedious and time consuming. Currently, we are furthering our progress by creating an automated photography stand, using our electrical and 3D printing skills.
From there, our next steps involved separation of these different plastics for analysis. Microplastics are not just one thing – there are MANY different types of plastics that act in many different ways. Using the diverse densities of plastics, we can separate them out in different solutions, making their origin easier to identify. Using this technique with our beer trials, we can separate the particles to see what different types of plastic are contaminating the sample!
Recently, we’ve begun verifying our analysis phase by using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), starting with our beer samples! The FT-IR is used to obtain an infrared spectrum of either absorption or emission of a sample. With the distinctive peaks in different wavelengths, one can compare the different spectrum to try and determine what polymer of plastic is in the sample.
We still have a long way to go, and a lot of learning to do, but to quote Madame Curie,
"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."
We’ve had many great volunteers come out to share their ideas and are currently working on something great with UW Blueprint! We love hearing from eager volunteers. If you want to pitch your ideas to us, or have any questions about microplastics, shoot us an email!
Science is like one big slow human conversation, and I'm excited to say something."
Lorien here, the new co-op student at PolyGone Technologies.
As a Systems Design Engineering student at the University of Waterloo, I'm interested in how our microplastic capture setup can be analysed and improved as an entire system. This means I think about its ergonomics, stability, accuracy, and how well it matches the best possible design that we could implement. I started off the term with a bit of research about existing methodologies that have been used in previous academic papers to detect and count microplastics. This was really my first time reading scientific articles in such depth and with the primary objective of critically understanding and analyzing a methodology, and I found it quite eye-opening. I've gained a newfound respect for the scientific process and for the importance of detailed method descriptions. Science is like one big slow human conversation, and I'm excited to say something.
More recently, I've been helping out by identifying a few new technologies that we can use. One of our major goals is to improve our photography and image analysis so that the particle-counting process is automated and free of human error. This means I've been deep-diving into the physics of light and fluorescence microscopy, as well as testing out a few new open source image processing programs that can help us detect the fibres after they've been filtered.
We ordered a new dissecting microscope recently, and this opens up a whole new avenue for image analysis. I’ve been given the chance to practice my 3D modeling skills for some new parts we’ve 3D printed as well as my circuits skills for a potentially useful Arduino-based setup with the microscope. Who knew DC motors drew so much current?
We've also been making some changes to the filtering workflow in the lab. The mission to rid our lab of plastic contamination continues, with new 100% cotton lab coats and a filtering setup made of glass and wood. I've gotten the chance to help Nicole construct a box to house the circuit that contains our water pump - this frees up a bit of space and makes our lab environment that much safer.
If there are any co-op students out there (or any excited individuals) who are interested in learning about PolyGone, feel free to contact us with any questions! Microplastic capture and identification is such a complex problem that you can be sure to connect it with any area of expertise, whether that means image analysis, machine learning, ergonomics, chemistry, fluorescence microscopy, or a whole host of other fields.
One great opportunity to come speak to us one-on-one is at World Water Day! Come celebrate water for all with the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute – it will be in the Science Teaching Complex (STC) on Friday, March 22. Look for PolyGone’s booth with the exhibitors. We hope to see you there or at EnviroCon at Western University the same day! Lauren and Nicole take the stage at 2pm, so listen up!
It’s been a while since our last update! The falling leaves and chill in the air made us reflect on the past few months, and how much we’ve accomplished and the opportunities we’ve had.
A few things happened right after our last update! Lauren had the chance to be interviewed by Women’s March Canada to talk about women in entrepreneurship and cleantech. This was a great opportunity to get the message out! You can watch that interview here.
We also mentioned in our last update that we were in the process of hiring an extra hand! We hired Andrew Rutland, a fellow UW Environment student, to help out with research and development for the summer and fall! As another queer and sustainably-minded student who had already heard about the microfibre problem and PolyGone’s work, he fit right into the team here and has been a HUGE help in the lab.
September started strong with Lauren pitching at the Fierce Founders competition where she came in second place, winning $25,000 for PolyGone! She met a lot of inspiring women running companies across Canada, including first place winner FableTech and runner up IntelliMed. Shortly afterwards, Lauren attended the Fireside Conference, an off-the-grid weekend retreat for entrepreneurs, investors and founders, where she was able to make great connections and get some great ideas.
October was another busy month for Lauren, who headed to Toronto to represent PolyGone on the microfibre panel at the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (WEAR) 2018 conference and pitched at the Textile Innovation Challenge in the same week! Here she was interviewed by Electric Runway for their sustainable fashion podcast. You can find that interview here.
The following week, Bardish Chagger, Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion came by the Velocity Science lab to hear from PolyGone and other startups! She was very interested in our concepts and agreed that Canada needs policies for microplastic control.
Around this time, we also got a sweet new lab setup thanks to a lot of late nights and trips to the hardware store by Nicole! The new setup allows us to process samples a lot faster, and with less babysitting of the equipment, so that we can work on other tasks in the meantime. It also uses more glass and metal components as opposed to plastic. This way, we can be more confident in our analyses of microfibers in laundry wastewater, since there’s less opportunity for possible contamination in the filtering process. Focusing on metal and glass also fits into our values to have the most sustainable product cycle possible!
We also got a brand new washing machine, so we could have an even more controlled sampling process. Our old machine had been run with Waterloo’s hard tap water hundreds of times, and so had buildup and decay that began to contaminate our filter samples. The new machine will only be run with pre-filtered water, in order to limit the amount of non-synthetic material clogging and contaminating our sampling filters.
Thanks to some interesting connections and brainstorming, PolyGone is also beginning to expand from just looking at microfibres in laundry effluent, but also beer! As you may know, microplastics have been found in food products all around the globe, including beer. We’re working with a brewery to sample for microplastics in their products and if present, may develop a version of our product for industrial brewing processes.
October was also Zero Waste month, and PolyGone threw our hat in the ring to try Zero Waste Week from October 15th to 19th. This was a company effort, so we used only one jar for all three of us to add only our waste generated while at work. We blew it out of the park with only one foil wrapper for the whole week!
If you’re interested in getting involved next year, or want to see how you do in a week, head to Reep Green Solutions for tips and a network to get started!
Finally, Lauren just attended AquaHacking 2018: Lake Ontario & Beyond in Toronto. You may remember that PolyGone was initially conceived during the AquaHacking 2017: United for Lake Erie event, so it was great to be part of the conversation and hear from new ‘aquapreneurs’ this year!
Well, that’s just about it! We’ll try to stay on top of updates… there’s lots of exciting things on the horizon!
‘Til next time!
P.S. Want to help us out? Sign up for our mailing list and watch for a survey coming soon!
How time flies! We've been busy behind the scenes over here at PolyGone, trying to make the best solution possible to microfibre contamination. We've been raising funds, 3D printing new designs, testing new options, pitching to anyone who'll listen, and making some incredible connections. Lauren has been speaking at a number of different entrepreneurship events and Nicole's been seeking out a new hire. Yes! We have even been able to hire on some extra help. This is so exciting and will let us speed up our processes!
A "brief" summary of what we've accomplished over the last few months...
Wow, that's a lot all put together! But we have one more piece of exciting news to share before we get back to work. We JUST found out we have been accepted to the Fierce Founders Bootcamp program at Communitech! We are so excited for this, and can't wait to meet, learn from, and work with other female founders of the region!
Unsurprisingly, we've got a lot more in the works as well, so be sure to follow along for updates. Sign-up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get as-it-happens news about our progress - and tips for keeping plastic our of your life!
Thanks for all of your support so far. We can't wait to have our tech in action, and all of these accomplishments bring us that much closer!
We've just returned home from an adventurous, invigorating trip to Silicon Valley for a very unique tech conference. Lesbians Who Tech Summits have been going on for 5 years, and the goal is to get more queer women and underrepresented groups into tech, have their voices heard, and to create a community for all these powerful minds. It's no secret that the tech industry is historically white, male, and unwelcoming to women. LWT is working to change that in the most empowering way possible.
We were both lucky enough to win scholarships to attend the Summit, held in the historic Castro District of San Francisco - fitting for a conference with goals to empower the LGBTQ community. The days were filled with rapid fire talks on all sorts of tech topics - from blockchain, to cybersecurity, to social justice, to AI, to augmented reality. Conversations on politics were unavoidable, and many leaders lent their time and knowledge to the summit. Some of the keynotes included Megan Smith, 3rd CTO to US President Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer of Uber, and even Canadian gems Tegan and Sara Quin. We did notice a lack of cleantech talks so hey, maybe next year we can hit the stage!
Left Column, top to bottom: Land's End at sunset; Kara Swisher of Recode; Rachel Renock of Wethos on sexual harassment and startups; our CTO Nicole at Land's End. Centre: Castro Theatre sign, the main stage for the Summit. Right Column, top to bottom: our CEO Lauren Smith posing at a fitting sign; arm wrestling semi-finals; famous seals at Pier 39; Tegan & Sara speaking about their activism and foundation.
Throughout the days there were laughs, tears, knowing nods, roaring applause, and even an arm wrestling competition (we didn't win). The experience was invaluable - we met many inspiring folks and entrepreneurs that we will be sure to stay in touch with. Having a conference like this is not only incredible for connections, but it really creates a community where folks can share similar experiences and learn from one another on both a personal and professional level. There are LWT Chapters all over the world, and we'll be starting one in the Kitchener-Waterloo region soon!
This past Thursday, we had the opportunity to speak on a Local Water Matters panel, hosted by the Guelph Greens, home of Green Party of Ontario leader, Mike Schreiner. Residents, friends, and concerned citizens gathered to discuss local water problems and to present solutions and actions to resolve these issues.
The evening opened with a gracious, indigenous water ceremony, recognizing the land we were on and the importance of water. We were able to hear from eco-travelling student entrepreneur, Emily DeSousa, Wellington Water Watchers executive director, Arlene Slocombe, and Concerned Residents Coalition president, Doug Tripp. We learned about Emily's efforts to travel sustainably and protect oceans, Arlene's work to conserve local water and what we can do to help, and Doug's coalition to prevent Hidden Quarry's development. There was a great turn out to this event, and we were thrilled to be invited to share knowledge of the microfibre problem and what we are doing to solve it. It really is inspiring to hear about the great work that is going on all around us!
As an action item at this event, we launched our proposal for MER, a Microfibre Emission Rating, that will report on microfibre emissions for various appliances and clothing items. Similar to the EnerGuide rating system, MER ratings can help consumers understand how many microfibres are being released when they wash their clothes, and help hold businesses responsible for their emissions. We hope that this rating will help encourage businesses to adopt microfibre mitigation measures, as well as increase transparency on this issue.
To develop this rating system, we are asking our governments for support. We also launched a petition for this rating system at the event last week. Let us know if you'd like to add your name, or find us at these upcoming events in Kitchener and Guelph to sign it in person. An online version is available here. Help us enforce microfibre emission ratings for transparency on this problem, to encourage microfibre mitigation technologies, and to help save everyone from eating their dirty laundry.
Today is International Day of Women In Science. As an all female company working in science, we understand the importance of recognizing women working in spaces that are "non-traditional" or where there is unequal representation. We've both often been the only female in these environments, but we haven't let that deter or stop us from travelling this path. There is a lot to be said here, but we thought we'd keep it short and share some science-forward images from our day to day - in hopes these neat images might be inspiring or at very least interesting to other women considering science! When I first started using microscopes, I always found it so fascinating how different things could look up close, peering into another world.
We talk a lot about microplastics and the microfibre problem - but what do they look like anyway? We took some time in the lab last week to snap up close photos of microfibres to share with you. We used our lab microscope and a digital camera attachment. It was super easy and they turned out great! In the higher magnification photos, you can see the colour of the fibres.
I think they look a like little worms or bacteria - which seems fitting as I wouldn't want those in my water either!
Have a look and let us know what you think they look like, or what you would want to see up close images of!
Nicole's also been working on some really exciting developments to better show you what we're doing. Stay tuned to see what that is!
The lab team has been working hard to improve capture rates and ensure our material choices are top of the line. In our latest test runs, we've found capture rates up to 100%! That means we are capturing ALL the microfibres released in your laundry, We are thrilled with this result and determined to get as close to this as possible in our pilot testings.
We are on track to have our first prototypes produced in the coming months. That means we are one step closer to testing our products in the 'real world' outside of our lab set up - and one step closer to getting PolyGone products into YOUR hands!
Last night, we joined six other amazing environmentally-minded start-ups to compete for the Jack Rosen Memorial Award. We heard a lot of amazing ideas from University of Waterloo Faculty of Environment students. From peer-to-peer solar energy providers in India, to sustainable peat farming for poultry bedding alternatives, to local investment services for small sustainable food businesses, and, of course, our own solution to microfibre pollution.. We are thrilled that our friends at Mossmore took home first place for their novel approach to peat farming! PolyGone Technologies secured second place, and couldn't be happier. Who knows, maybe there's some collaboration down the road!