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Engineering | Undergraduate Research

Impact of Chemical Additives on Microplastic Pollution in The Environment

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Dr. Yuqiang Bi, an Assistant Professor for School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment has a research opening for the following project:

With a global production of plastics exceeding 400 million tons annually, plastics are ubiquitous and used in many everyday single-use products, which are usually designed for immediate disposal. One unintended but inevitable consequence of the explosion of plastics manufacturing is the release of plastics into the environment, which caused widespread pollution of land and ocean. In particular, microplastics with sizes between 1 µm and 5 mm, is an issue of global concern and poses significant risks to aquatic life, ecosystem, and also human health. Because plastic materials typically incorporate various additives during production processes, such as metal catalysts, flame retardants, plasticizers, and pigments, these chemicals can leach into the environment at a faster rate from the micro-sized plastic particles than bulk materials. However, the inclusion and consequent leaching of additives from microplastics upon entering the aquatic environment are still poorly documented.
In recent years, oxo-biodegradable plastics are developed and marketed as one of the eco-friendly solutions to persistent plastic pollution in the environment. By incorporating metal-based pro-oxidants, the oxo-biodegrdable plastics can undergo fast chemical degradation and fragmentation upon exposure to UV irradiation or heat. However, the accelerated fragmentation processes may produce greater microplastic debris and accumulation of heavy metals in the environment.
We are looking for a student interested in taking the challenge of understanding how plastic additives influence the generation of microplastics in the environment and how microplastic sizes regulate the leaching of metal additives to the aquatic systems. Successful student applicant will work closely with Dr. Bi and join a diverse team of environmental engineers and scientists. Successful undergraduate students typically have the opportunity to co-author research papers and present their work at workshops and conferences. Students will work approximately 5-10 hours per week and receive the FURI stipend where applicable.


  • Emerging contaminants
  • Water chemistry
  • Metal catalyst

Student qualifications/requirements:

  • Resume
  • Unofficial Transcripts
  • Major in civil engineering, environmental science/engineering, chemistry, or biology.

Semester(s) or start/end date of position: As soon as possible

Number of hours per week: 10

Stipend amount/hourly wage/volunteer position: Volunteer Position, which can be funded through FURI or MORE program

Lab/Center website:

How to apply: Please contact Dr. Bi by email at Include the project name in the title and your resume and unofficial transcript.


Posted on

March 5, 2019