Meet Polarquest Scholarship Awardee Valeria!


It’s a great day today, May 13, for Polarquest and our microplastic junior scientist Valeria Catapano! As Polarquest Scholarship Awardee, this young biologist starts today analyzing microplastics samples collected during the Polarquest2018 expedition.

The samples, currently stored frozen at the CNR (National Research Council) Laboratory of Marine Biology in Lerici (La Spezia), will be counted by Valeria (it has to be the same individual according to the scientific protocol) using standardized criteria. Under the supervision of the microplastic expert and lab director Stefano Aliani, Valeria will first measure fiber length and diameter of each sample with a micrometer. Then she will use the lab’s FT-IR microscope to measure the polymeric composition of these floating particles.

Stefano Aliani and Valeria Catapano at work at CNR-ISMAR in Lerici, La Spezia

Polymer verification with reference spectra is fundamental to identify what is plastic and what is not and to draw scientific conclusions about the quantities of plastic present in our oceans. Moreover, each polymer type tells the story of the plastic object the sample comes from. Through the characterization of the chemical identity of each polymer, scientists can trace back the industrial product at the origin of the microplastic sample filtered by the mesh used by Nanuq in the Arctic Ocean and on the North Pole ice shelf itself! As well as provide detailed information on their abundance and geographical distribution. Geographical differences in sample composition are important to demonstrate heterogeneity in plastics distribution and the complex interplay between pollution sources, sinks and residence times of different polymers at sea.

The microplastic analysis is a painstaking job requiring top range scientific tools and a very precision and patience junior scientist! But it ’s the only way to assess the exact status of the plastic pollution in the sea and, based on that, find the right solutions!

To learn more about the scientific process of microplastic analysis see this research paper published on Nature by Stefano Aliani and colleagues: