Staffordshire University scientist recognised for environmental research

“Microplastics is currently a major issue for the planet – it has been found that these plastic particulates are everywhere including in our drinking water and in the food we eat.”

Dr Claire Gwinnett, Associate Professor of Forensic and Crime Science

A Forensic Scientist from Staffordshire University has been recognised with a prestigious scholarship for her research into the global problem of plastic pollution.

Dr Claire Gwinnett, Associate Professor of Forensic and Crime Science, is among only 150 people to receive a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship this year.

She specialises in microfibre analysis and was part of the research team that discovered the first evidence of deep-sea animals ingesting microplastics.

Funding from The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust will allow Dr Gwinnett to build on this research by working with international experts and undertaking an expedition along The Hudson River in North America.

“Microplastics is currently a major issue for the planet – it has been found that these plastic particulates are everywhere including in our drinking water and in the food we eat.” she explained.

“I feel honoured to achieve such an award and I am very excited to be collaborating with top researchers in microplastic analysis.”

Dr Gwinnett was chosen from thousands of applicants and was inspired to apply for the funding after seeing Staffordshire University colleague Dr Laura Walton-Williams secure a fellowship to research sexual offences in the USA and Canada last year.

For the project, Dr Gwinnett will investigate different international practices in microplastic research and identify best practice which can be adopted for use in environmental research in the UK.

“Currently, there is no one standardised method for the characterisation and quantification of microplastics globally which is needed if we are ever going to truly know the extent of this pollution and the effect on marine life and humans.

“This makes this an excellent topic for the Fellowship which aims to encourage international collaboration to solve real issues such as this.”

Dr Gwinnett will travel across the USA and Australasia visiting scientists who work in the analysis of microplastics and play an important part in education around plastic pollution.

In particular, she will be working with the Rozalia project on the 2018 expedition along the Hudson River, sampling microplastics from both the river and the air from onboard the famous American Promise, the greenest sailing research vessel in the world. 

She added: "This is such an important topic that affects everyone on the planet and Fellowships such as this will really help change the future of our environment.”

Read more from Dr Gwinnett on microplastics on The Conversation.

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