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Electron Microscopy Sciences

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Fluorescence search for microplastics with the NIGHTSEA® SFA

EMS Catalog #SFA

Microplastics, plastics fibers or particles on the order of millimeters or less in size, have become ubiquitous in the world around us, and especially in the marine environment. Some of the microplastics are primary, purposely manufactured to be small to perform specific functions such as in facial cleansers and cosmetics, while others are secondary, produced by deterioration of larger pieces. A Google search on 'microplastics in the environment' will point you to many good references.

A team at the College of Charleston is using the NIGHTSEA Stereo Microscope Fluorescence Adapter in their investigation of microplastics in the environment. Dr. Phil Dustan and students Ariel Christensen and Damien Beri have been examining a wide variety of subjects, both marine and terrestrial. Many of the particles fluoresce and show up clearly in samples. They even found a load of microplastic particles in a sample of eagle excrement!

  • NIGHTSEA SFA in the Dustan Lab
  • Eagle excrement fluorescence

This video shows how the group is collecting samples and examining them for microplastics.

Besides entering the food web, microplastics can be incorporated into manufactured products. We looked at a paper towel and toilet paper under our microscope here at NIGHTSEA and were surprised by the number of glowing spots and fibers.

  • Paper towel, white light
  • Paper towel, fluorescence
  •  Toilet paper, white light
  • Toilet paper, fluorescence

The Dustan lab started out using only the Royal Blue excitation/emission set, and that is also what was used for the paper towel and toilet paper samples shown above. The lab added the Ultraviolet set and, as might be expected, this highlights additional materials. As an example in a different field, see the comparative white-light/ultraviolet/royal-blue images of dust bunny samples for forensic sciences applications. In that case the two fluorescence images almost look like they are of completely different samples! For microplastics, if one has to choose a single fluorescence set, Dr. Dustan recommends the Royal Blue combination.

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