Detecting Microplastics in Soil and Sediment in an Undergraduate Environmental Chemistry Laboratory Experiment That Promotes Skill Building and Encourages Environmental Awareness

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Journal of Chemical Education


Environmental pollution is both a worldwide and a local issue, and microplastic pollution in particular is receiving increased attention due to its prevalence and bioaccumulation potential affecting the food chain. This laboratory experiment uses current, research-based methods such that the students can determine the extent of microplastic pollution in local soil samples. This laboratory experiment can be used as either a 2 or 3 week mini-research-project for first-year undergraduate students in either an introductory chemistry course for nonmajors or a general chemistry course for majors. The laboratory experiment gives students exposure to sieving, density gradients, and exposure to the Fenton reagent to isolate microplastics from soil samples, which are then analyzed and quantified under stereomicroscope magnification. Several general chemistry topics common to most first-year chemistry courses (density and solution concentration calculations, etc.) are emphasized during the laboratory experiment. From postexperiment assessments, students showed a marked improvement in select skill sets and knowledge of the microplastic pollution problem, and some students recognized their misconceptions concerning research following the completion of this laboratory experiment.