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New Moore Institute Team Member to Start in September

Win Cowger

We are very excited to introduce you to the newest member of MIPPR’s team. Win Cowger, also known as the trashiest researcher, is a PhD candidate and NSF graduate research fellow at the University of California, Riverside. He studies the sources, transport, and fate of plastic pollution in the environment. He has served on the Moore Institute’s Board of Directors since our inception. Win will be graduating in September and will be joining the Moore Institute team as a Postdoctoral Researcher.

Win was raised in Benicia, California where he graduated from high school. He attended community college at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa where he received an Associates’s Degree and then received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science at Iowa State University. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science at the University of California, Riverside, and plans to graduate in September. Win’s dissertation focuses on understanding the transport of plastic pollution through rivers. Win is versed in field and lab research and has a strong background in data science and software development. Win is passionate about open data and open science and tweets often about both on his Twitter @Win_OpenData. In Win’s free time he climbs big walls in Yosemite and enjoys long hikes in the wilderness.

Moore Institute’s Spring Project Updates

Methods Development Study

In previous newsletters I have written about Moore Institute’s participation in an interlaboratory effort, sponsored by the State of California, to develop a standard method for analyzing and reporting the quantity and type of plastics in our drinking (tap) water. As part of the study, each participating laboratory was given an identical set of samples with known quantities of microplastics in each sample type (matrix). There were 4 matrices, clean water, dirty water, sediment and fish tissue.  We have now completed the extraction of microplastics from each of these matrices.  The data has been reported from the clean water samples and a final “reveal”session has been held by the organizers at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to see how the labs did finding the known amount. Microplastics in clean water was the focus of the California Water Resources Control Board, as it was the matrix most relevant to their mandate to determine the amount and dangers of microplastics in our drinking water and take appropriate regulatory actions.

It was quite a surprise to see how all the labs did, including the labs of large corporations. While we have been asked not to share actual results until our findings are published in the peer reviewed journal Chemosphere, I can safely say that there is more work to be done before we can arrive at standard methods for monitoring microplastics In drinking water, especially at the most invasive micron size classes. The goal of the Moore Institute is to be the first ever accredited laboratory for microplastic analysis in different matrices, but especially, drinking water.

One of the benefits of our participation in such a large study is connecting with important players in our field of research. The head of the CA Water Board’s microplastic monitoring initiative requested that I send plastic samples from diverse areas for a study of aging in environmental plastics. We were able to send 4 samples from widely different sources that would have different age profiles and other characteristics: 1)Kamilo Beach, Hawaii (known as “trash beach”), 2) Hi-Zex buoy island. You can google the Island’s name to see a Youtube video of me standing on the island describing the microplastics found there. I believe this is the first “trash island” ever discovered in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), 3) Trawl samples of plastic and plankton from our 2014 voyage to the GPGP, and 4) Beach sand samples collected by Algalita volunteers from the Long Beach Peninsula (these would have the most recently deposited plastics). The scientist in charge of this ageing study is Dr. Roxana Suehring, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biology at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has agreed to keep us updated on what they discover.

Citizen Science Water Monitoring

We are continuing to work on our Citizen Science water testing kits. A geography major at UCLA, Spencer Zinke, has volunteered with us after I spoke to his class. He sketched out a conceptual model of what we are thinking about.  Win Cowger has suggested that we make the device out of clear lucite so that the user can see how the filtration process proceeds and we can set a limit at a certain number of cc’s of water per minute in order to stop filtering at a point where the process becomes too slow.  The device could then be shipped back dry with the filter in place for analysis at our laboratory.  We love these collaborative Research and Development projects.  We will keep you updated on our progress and welcome suggestions!

Working diagram of drinking water sampling device.