During the CAFE Summer Program, I had the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Lili He from the Department of Food Science, alongside PhD students in her lab, focusing on microplastics research. Microplastics are defined as plastic particles with a diameter smaller than 5 mm and are a prominent form of marine debris resulting from the degradation of larger plastic products. As global awareness of microplastics grows, we've uncovered alarming facts, such as the detection of these tiny particles in food, water, and even animal tissues, including the human heart and placenta. Detecting and identifying particles of this size is difficult, largely because modern instruments like Raman Microscopy and FT-IR Spectroscopy are size-dependent, experiencing limitations within the 1 µm range.
My summer research was centered on developing a simple and efficient method for detecting 1 µm Polystyrene microplastics. This was achieved by using acetone, a well-known solvent, to expand their structure, and Raman Microscopy for detection and identification. The expansion of microplastics facilitated instrument feedback, resulting in enhanced Raman spectra intensity. Throughout this summer, I had the autonomy to plan and execute my experimental approach, which significantly bolstered my confidence and skills as a chemist. I devoted substantial time to developing my skills with Raman Microscopy, a cutting-edge technique in life sciences that I hadn't encountered in my coursework before.
This summer experience was invaluable, not just as a student but also as a budding professional. I'd like to express my sincere gratitude to the CAFE program for its support and this incredible opportunity, Dr. Lili He for her warm welcome into her lab and guidance throughout the project, and The Massachusetts Stage Grange, USDA, and NIFA for their generous funding of this research. I look forward to continuing to develop this project through the duration of my senior year at UMass.