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!