Microplastic Analysis

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Infrared Spectroscopy for Microplastic Analysis

What are microplastics and why are they harmful?

Microplastic Research
Microplastics are defined as very small pieces of plastic that are less than five millimeters long. Plastics that are below 100 nm are considered nanoplastics.1 Microplastics can be created when improperly disposed plastic degrades into smaller pieces or ,for example, from microbeads added to personal care products. Microplastic particles (MPPs), which generally degrade slowly, have been discovered in the ocean, other waterways, soil, our drinking water, and now represent an increasing ecological and health risk.

While it is known that humans and other species can absorb MPPs, the effects of microplastics are not yet fully understood.2 As plastic pollution increases, so does the urgent need to understand what potential risks microplastics represent to living organisms.

QCL Infrared Spectroscopy Technology Advances Microplastic Research

Analysis of microplastics and nanoplastics is a rapidly evolving field that aims to understand their effects on the ecosystem, and help solve the global plastic pollution problem. Detecting and analyzing MPPs in the ecosystem is a critical part of this effort. Infrared (IR) spectroscopy is emerging as a powerful technique for the sensitive detection, identification, and imaging of MPPs. IR spectroscopy works by measuring how MPPs absorb IR light, and by using the unique IR ‘spectral fingerprint’ of different MPP chemical compounds to identify and quantify them.

Using high-brightness Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs) in IR spectroscopy extends the technique, and greatly increases detection sensitivity and speed of data acquisition. These advantages are critical to microplastic research, which often requires rapid analysis of many MPP samples.

DRS Daylight Solutions designs and manufactures a range of advanced QCL-IR-based sources and instrumentation ideally suited to MPP research. The Spero® QCL-IR microscope, for example, uses the high brightness of its QCL-IR light engine to enable  wide-field IR imaging (up to 2mm x 2mm FOV) at video-rates, and collect full IR hyperspectral data cubes in tens of seconds. A recently published paper by Alfred Wegener Institute (Helgoland, Germany) demonstrates how this performance is bringing new, powerful analytical capabilities to MPP analysis. Please contact our expert team of application scientists to learn how real-time chemical imaging capabilities can advance your research.

1 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – What are microplastics?

2 PHYS ORG – How dangerous is microplastic?

Related Publication

Rapid Identification and Quantification of Microplastics in the Environment by Quantum Cascade Laser-Based Hyperspectral Infrared Chemical Imaging

Environmental Science & Technology | DOI: doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c05722 | G. Gerdts et al

Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute (Helgoland, Germany) leverage wide-field, high-resolution QCL-IR chemical imaging to classify microplastic contaminants in waterways. Real-time detection, high throughput of samples, and broad wavelength range made the instrument ideally suited to distinguish between contaminants.

Spero® IR Microscope

Compared to FTIR spectrometers and microscopes, the Spero microscope offers unmatched spatial resolution, rapid-scanning, and wide-field capabilities all while eliminating the need for cryogenic cooling. This system is faster than Raman microscopes, by orders of magnitude, and avoids the detrimental effects of auto-fluorescence. Spero microscopes enable new data collection modalities such as real-time chemical imaging and user-defined sparse data collection. Their small benchtop footprints makes them suitable for labs with space constraints.


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