Welcome to our first edition of The Brief—a publication series with each focused on a high-impact research area tackling a global challenge or an innovative educational initiative to develop the next generation of engineering leaders. In this Fall 2022 issue, we feature interdisciplinary research our engineering scholars are conducting to address Plastics, Health, and the Environment.
Although humans produce 370 million tons of plastic each year, there is limited information on how it affects the environment and human health. What do low concentrations of plastics do to an ecosystem? Do we need to clean the ocean surface or is floating plastic okay because it will be broken down by sunlight? When plastics wash up on beaches, do they impede natural life forms? And where are plastics being found—from rivers to dust particles in human lungs, and even chemicals in the body affecting fetuses. Our researchers are seeking answers to these and other critical questions. They are also developing innovative alternatives to plastic materials and ways to upcycle them.