Faculty featured on podcast discusses impact of biofilms on microplastics in water

June 2, 2022

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Penn State News. Margaret Byron, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Jay Regan, professor of civil and environmental engineering, are featured.  

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Margaret Byron, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was featured on a recent episode of Growing Impact. The Institutes of Energy and the Environment podcast spotlights researchers who have been awarded IEE seed grants to address some of the world’s most challenging energy and environmental issues.

Byron discussed her seed grant project, ‘Effects of Biofilms on the Transport of Microplastics.’ Through this project, she and her colleague, Jay Regan, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, are investigating how the transport of microplastics through water may be impacted by biofilms.

“If you've ever been to the coast and you've seen a buoy or the bottom of a boat, it doesn't look like a pristine surface. It has stuff growing on it,” Byron said. “There are all kinds of organisms, bacteria, algae and larvae of animals that live in those ecosystems, and they like to attach to stuff. If there is a piece of plastic handy, maybe they settle there.”

Byron said there is a lot of debate about what the impacts of microplastics are going to be on the ecosystem and human health.

“With plastics, one of the problems here is that we're not quite sure what the overall impact is going to be," Byron said.

Considering that the world is still understanding microplastics and their impact, Byron said it would be very beneficial to understand how microplastics are going to be carried around in a flowing water system.

Growing Impact features Penn State researchers who have been awarded IEE seed grants and discusses their foundational work as they further their projects. The podcast is available on multiple platforms, including AppleGoogleAmazon and Spotify.


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