Spotting Various Plastics and Materials with Fluorescence Tech

Greg Howard
25th April, 2024

Spotting Various Plastics and Materials with Fluorescence Tech

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers at Rosenheim Technical University developed a new method to identify microplastics in soil using fluorescence
  • The method uses a specific light wavelength (445 nm) to make microplastics glow, distinguishing them from natural materials
  • This technique is faster and nondestructive, preserving the microplastics' size and shape for accurate ecological risk assessment
Environmental pollution by plastics is a significant and growing concern, with microplastics—a term for tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size—posing a particular threat to ecosystems. These small particles can be ingested by wildlife, potentially leading to harmful effects on organisms and the food chain. A recent study conducted by researchers at Rosenheim Technical University[1] has developed a promising new method to identify and differentiate between microplastics and natural materials in soil, which could revolutionize the way we assess the ecological risks of microplastic pollution. Microplastics are pervasive in marine and terrestrial environments, and their small size allows them to be easily ingested by organisms, potentially causing physical harm or acting as carriers for toxic substances[2][3]. One of the challenges in studying these particles is their detection and analysis in complex environmental samples. Traditional mass-based methods are destructive and do not provide information on the size and shape of the particles, which are crucial for understanding their ecological impact. Conversely, particle-based methods that do provide this information are labor-intensive and slow[3]. The Rosenheim Technical University research team sought to address this issue by using a technique called frequency-domain fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FD-FLIM). This method allows for the rapid and nondestructive identification of microplastics by analyzing their fluorescence—the property of some substances to absorb light at one wavelength and emit it at another. The researchers tested various excitation wavelengths to find the most effective one for identifying microplastics among natural materials commonly found in soil. Their findings indicated that using a 445 nm excitation wavelength resulted in the highest fluorescence intensities, making it particularly effective for distinguishing plastics from natural materials. With FD-FLIM, the researchers were able to identify different types of transparent plastic granulates and tire wear particles, which are a significant source of microplastic pollution. This method has significant advantages over existing analytical techniques. It is faster, as it does not require the elaborate sample preparation that other particle-based methods do. It is also nondestructive, which means that the physical characteristics of the microplastics, such as shape and size, can be preserved for further analysis. This capability is critical for a more accurate ecological risk assessment, as the shape and size of microplastics can influence their bioavailability and potential to cause harm[3]. The study by the Rosenheim Technical University team is an important step forward in microplastic research. It leverages the advancements in analytical techniques, such as the automated TED-GC-MS system previously described[4], to develop a method that could potentially be used for routine environmental monitoring. This new FD-FLIM approach could help streamline the identification of microplastics in less complex terrestrial samples, such as surface soil inspections. However, the study also acknowledges the need for further research to fully understand the limitations of FD-FLIM in terms of detecting various sizes, shapes, colors, and types of materials. This is crucial for the method to be applied broadly across different environmental matrices and to ensure that it can reliably distinguish microplastics from the myriad of natural materials present in the environment. In conclusion, the innovative use of FD-FLIM by the Rosenheim Technical University researchers offers a promising new tool in the fight against microplastic pollution. By enabling rapid and accurate identification of microplastics in soil, this technique could significantly improve our ability to assess and mitigate the ecological risks posed by these persistent pollutants. As the study indicates, there is still work to be done to refine and validate this method, but its potential contribution to environmental science is clear.



Main Study

1) Identification of different plastic types and natural materials from terrestrial environments using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy

Published 23rd April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemicals components: the need for urgent preventive measures.

3) The physical impacts of microplastics on marine organisms: a review.

4) Automated thermal extraction-desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry: A multifunctional tool for comprehensive characterization of polymers and their degradation products.

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