New method to label and track nano-particles could improve our understanding of plastic pollution

New method to label and track nano-particles could improve our understanding of plastic pollution

December 7, 2020
Press Release: University of Surrey

Nano-plastics are particles of at least one dimension below 1μm. While there has been growing awareness of the dangers of visible plastic pollution to marine life, nano-plastics are thought to be even more dangerous as unseen, smaller animals and fish can ingest them

Nano-plastics are suspected of being released into the environment directly by commercial products and by the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic litter.

In a study published by the journal Communications Materials, researchers from the University of Surrey detail a new one-step polymerization method to label nano-polystyrene directly on the carbon backbone of plastic. The new simple method uses 14C-styrene and requires minimal reagents and equipment to create nano-particles in a wide range of sizes for use in simulated lab environments.

The team has used their new method to produce and investigate the behavior of nano-plastics at low concentrations in a variety of scenarios – including in bivalve mollusc.

“The truth is that the scientific community knows little about the effects and behaviour of nano-plastics in our environment because it’s extraordinarily difficult to detect, track and measure such minute particles,” said Dr Maya Al Sid Cheikh, co-author of the study and Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Surrey. “Our new, simple method is a step in the right direction for correcting this knowledge gap as it allows researchers to replicate scenarios in which commercially produced nano-particles have customarily gone unnoticed.”

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