Paw'd Defiance

Microplastics in the Water

May 15, 2019 Season 1 Episode 9
Paw'd Defiance
Microplastics in the Water
Chapters
Paw'd Defiance
Microplastics in the Water
May 15, 2019 Season 1 Episode 9
UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer Julie Masura and UW Tacoma students Tracie Barry and Abby Deaton.
UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer Julie Masura and two student researchers discuss their work collecting and analyzing microplastics in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
Show Notes Transcript

UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer Julie Masura along with student researchers Tracie Barry and Abby Deaton talk about their work with microplastics in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Masura's work in this area began a few years ago. She helped pioneer a method for collecting and analyzing microplastics that is used around the world. Masura also discusses the role students play in advancing research at UW Tacoma.

Speaker 1:
0:00
Being actually scientists at University of Washington Tacoma. There's a lot of women, a lot of really powerful, very wise women that are teaching science
Speaker 2:
0:10
[inaudible]
Speaker 1:
0:14
from the Udub Tacoma. This is part defiance.
Speaker 2:
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[inaudible]
Speaker 1:
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welcome to plot defines where we don't lecture, but we do educate. I'm your host Maria Chris Austin will stay on the pot, the ocean microplastics and student research we did to coma, senior lecturer Julie, Missouri, eight of Tacoma Students, Tracy Berry and IBD.
Speaker 2:
0:40
Yeah.
Speaker 1:
0:45
So Hey, today we have three guests. Can you please introduce yourself? Hi, my name is Julie Missouri. I'm a senior lecturer at the University of Washington Tacoma and I'm an environmental science faculty member and I do research with plastics in the ocean and also look at Harwell algae in the ocean. Hi, my name's Abby. I'm, I am an environmental studies major at the University of Washington Tacoma and I've been doing work with Julie on microplastics.
Speaker 3:
1:13
Um, my name is Tracy Berry. I am a senior in environmental science a and I've been working with Julie for just over two years studying harmful algal blooms and phytoplankton ecology.
Speaker 1:
1:25
Can you describe the work that you do? Eat? If Tacoma, I'll start. So I teach, um, a geo science, um, faculty members. So I teach a lot of physical science courses and a part of those, um, courses is teaching students how to do research. Um, which I think is probably the most fun that I have teaching. Um, in the research, uh, opportunities that we do, um, in my particular lab are very applicable to the environment. And we work in partnership with the Department of Ecology, with the National Oceanic and atmospheric administration. I'm doing some real kind of, um, environmental, um, question. We actually address a lot of environmental questions. Um, when we look at algae, we look at how that affects not only the environment, but also the human health aspects. Uh, and when we look at plastics, we're really trying to understand the implications of plastic and how much plastic's out there in the environment. So, um, yeah, so that's one of the one the, uh, honors that I have is to work with these undergraduate students on some, some real environmental science questions. Hey, this is Abby. Um, I've been working with Julie on looking at microplastics around Puget sound. So what I do is just flip them out and then, um, look at them under a microscope and measure them and see how much is in each sediment sample.
Speaker 3:
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And this is Tracy and I enumerate phytoplankton cells, which basically means I count thousands of them. And the coolest part of my research is going on a boat with
Speaker 1:
3:01
can you elaborate more what microplastics are? Sure. Microplastics and this is Julie. I'm microplastics. Um, is any kind of polymers when he use the word polymer, you can think of it as any kind of carbon and hydrogen, um, elements that are bonded together. Um, any polymer that's less than five millimeters and you can think of the width of a small pencil, um, as of five millimeters and anything that's smaller so they can be broken down into from larger pieces of plastic into smaller pieces of plastic or they can be manufactured to be that size. So you can think of little plastic pellets, um, micro beads. Those kinds of things are also considered microplastics. Yeah. I want to go back to, um, before you became a professor. So how was your background back then? So the way that I became an educator is I, um, I was really lucky when I was an undergraduate at the Washington State University, which is our, uh, you know, uh, one of our sister schools here in Washington state.
Speaker 1:
4:05
Um, I actually had the opportunity to teach teachers as an undergraduate. So I taught teachers in the community around Pohlman on how to teach astronomy to their elementary school students. And so that was it. I was really lucky. Um, and then as a geology major, I also started teaching all the labs, um, for the undergraduate geology courses, which again was just great opportunity for an undergraduate and almost unheard of. And then I became a master students, um, and also continued to teach not only lab science courses, but I also got to teach the lectures too. So I had this wonderful opportunity to teach and also do research. So my research and graduate schools looking at dinosaurs in Utah, which was so fun. Um, and so did a ton of field work, was always out in the desert. Um, and looking at sediments, um, which is kind of the reason why I get into sediments and Puget sound is cause I'm a sedimentologist.
Speaker 1:
5:04
And so as I was doing research and teaching, I got out of graduate school and I didn't know really what to do. So I started working in industry for a bit and then basically looked for a job and found a job teaching. So I started teaching at a bunch of community colleges in the Puget sound region, uh, and then happen to get this job here at University of Washington Tacoma about 14 years ago. And have been here ever since. What interested you about science? So this is still Julie. I just, I want to tell you this is a, the coolest thing and it's a, I say this often when people ask me that question when I was a little girl here at the Tacoma Public Library, they were selling books for a quarter, a piece of diamond piece. They're having a big book sale, they're getting rid of stuff. And I went straight to the science section and I picked up all of the books that had to do with doing backyard chemistry and backyard experiments and I was picking up mud and doing all the experiments
Speaker 3:
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in those books. And that's really where my passion for science and playing in the dirt kind of came from. And now I'm a sedimentologist. Yeah. Um, I think I started looking at science stuff when, oh, this is Abby. When I was younger actually had a rock collection in a rock tumbler and stuff. It was my favorite thing to do. And now I think when I started taking college classes, I realized that science is the most fun to me at least to learn about because you get to like come up with experiments and answer, answer questions that maybe people don't have the answer for yet or like you can help people figure out questions and answers. And so I think that's why I like science so much. Yeah. I, um, I think I have the, Oh, this Tracy. I still have the first crystal I ever found in my whole life and it's proudly displayed on the shelf, but I never thought that I could be a scientist or a part of science.
Speaker 3:
6:53
And so I went off and had this cool real estate career and then they closed the sturgeon fishery on the HSA. Hey, lis. And I said, I'm going to save this surgeon mostly because they're my favorite fish to eat, but I love them. And that has just catapulted me into this weird oceanography, Fido pointed world and I just can't, can't stop, won't stop. So a students, um, what does it mean for you to be doing research? It's the world. This is Tracy. Um, this is when you find out what you're capable of to really get in there and contribute to the field to know that you can have something to contribute and something to say. Otherwise you're just studying and memorizing. But this is you finding out how the universe works yourself and helping other people around you do it and making those connections. And it's been a ride.
Speaker 3:
7:53
This is Abby. I started doing research. Would you leave? Because I felt like I needed to do something other than just taking classes. I wanted to have something to kind of like show for my college career. And so I actually, if she had anything that I could work on and she was like, Oh yeah, definitely. And so I started doing that. And I think like throughout this process I've met a lot more people that are doing things in the field that I kind of want to be in I think. And so it's cool to meet people and make those connections and also to like realize that you can't do science on your own and to learn how to um, like do experiments without having like someone in like other people around you in a class setting. So Julie, what is the role of the students play in your research? Actually, um, everything. So anytime I do talks, um, uh, wherever, internationally here, locally or in classes, I always give all the credit to my students, a cadre of students that do that work cause they, they find
Speaker 1:
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this passion. And I couldn't do what I do and I couldn't have gained so much notoriety without the work that students do. And I always give him credit. In fact, I sometimes will say that, you know, they, they did all the work. If they just make me and they make me look good, you know, and they do some great stuff. And, and I love, um, being able to give confidence to students. And not only, you know, when you do a lab in class, sometimes you're like, measure out this and do that. And then there's nothing goes wrong. It goes wrong a lot in our labs. So it really gives them the confidence to be able to troubleshoot, which is a skill that you can't teach, you know? And I'm not always going to be there, especially when they graduate. So students are really very important to my research and what I do.
Speaker 1:
9:44
Yeah. So what are some of the research things that you've done so far? So I've done many, many different projects. Um, I think my CV is about 35 pages because of all of the advising and the mentoring of them with students, which I'm pretty proud of. But with respect to looking at the harmful Algal blooms, uh, looking here in the Puget sound, um, also I've worked at, Tracy had mentioned clockwork sound, which is off the west coast of Vancouver Island, so worked up there, um, and really trying to understand, um, if there is a way in which we can actually predict, um, harmful Algal blooms from occurring and being able to kind of inform policymakers and, um, harvesters basically whether or not, you know, we would expect to have a bloom. So that's one of the biggest projects. And because I'm on boats all the time, um, I kind of fell into microplastics.
Speaker 1:
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So the microplastics worth than probably most noted for is kind of a hobby I do on the side while I'm on the boat. Um, which I think is where I get a lot more students involved because it's something that I do kind of on the side. Um, and so that's also looking at microplastics in the water column. I look at microplastics on beaches and also in sediments, which is kind of the focus of what Abby's been supporting, uh, lately, this past quarter. And the places I work with, plastics, Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska. I just did a big project in the American Virgin Islands. Um, uh, mentoring a masters students there. Um, I work all up and down the west coast, so tons of input. Worked throughout the whole Pacific Ocean, looking at plastic and feces of seals, which is kind of smelly but was really interesting kind of project. So just, uh, uh, just a myriad of projects that I've been involved in over the years.
Speaker 1:
11:40
So a lot of the research that you do is outside up? Yes. Well, I mean they're all connected to the University of Washington, Tacoma, so everything is always incorporating everything that I said for the most part, not everything, but the majority, um, ha involves undergraduate and some graduate students when you ever see Washington coma. We also have high school students that I work with. So I'm working on the Bellerman student right now who's looking at, um, ingestion of plastics and muscles on my, you know, the American Virgin Islands. I had, I had mentioned to some people from Oregon State University, University of Washington, Seattle. So most of it's here at the Udub Tacoma. But you know, I'll, I'll, I'll help out anybody who's basically wants a son, as I say, uh, some of my personal advice. Going back to Tracy and Abby, can you describe a day in the life of doing research?
Speaker 3:
12:33
Well, this is Abby. Um, I usually have class and then after class I go into the lab and I like to just kind of write down, um, the things that I need to do that day. And then I just check them off as I go. And so that usually involves starting a sample and then doing, um, like different steps of other samples. So you have multiple going at once, but they're usually all in different stages. And so then he just kinda goes step by step through each one and then, then you just kind of clean up after yourself
Speaker 1:
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cleaning. Yeah, I think, yeah. This is Julie cleaning is the majority of the work that we do is keeping our equipment cleaning. Yeah.
Speaker 3:
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So this is Tracy and uh, we have this really great room. My research is pretty much one step right? One long step. So we have this room we call the sad closet and it's not that sad. You actually put on a podcast, nobody knows you're in there, you'll never find it on campus. It's like a secret room. And I sit there and I count sometimes it takes me five hours a slide, sometimes it's 45 minutes and I'll spend eight to 11 hours in my closet and everyone will be surprised when I emerged. Kind of dazed. What are some of the things that you enjoy most doing research? I like to come into the lab and um, when other people are in there, it's kind of fun to talk to them about what they're doing too because there's other people who are doing projects, maybe not the same projects. There are a few people working on the same thing as me, but um, there's other people doing other projects and so we get to like talk about that Kinda stuff.
Speaker 1:
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So as a student, um, what was that first experience like doing research?
Speaker 3:
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Does that be, it's been really cool actually. I haven't had much of it and so it's really fun to be able to go in there and like go through stuff. And then if I ever need help, Julie is just text away pretty much. And um, it's really fun. Sure. So, um, I started doing research at a community college out on the coast, grays harbor and that's when I got involved with phytoplankton. So this experience has been mentioned different. It's the first time I've had the opportunity to present my own thoughts and my own project and take it out into the world. And it's been just crazy. You really don't what you're doing when you start, you just think that your instructor is going to hand you a project and you're going to compile some data and that's not what you're doing. You're really formulating a thought and trying to disprove it or see what else is going on. And it's, it's just so cool. And we're a bunch of ocean nerds in that lab. Right? Are we doing plankton or we're doing sediments? Are we doing sis? Um, plastics. We just are all stoked about what each other, what each of our projects are. And it has been just super cool.
Speaker 1:
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And this is Julie. If I can just Kinda, I wanted to also highlight Tracy's involvement. Um, she's presented at international conferences doing stuff that's, you know, graduate students would do and she's her work. Her thesis that she created as a senior, uh, last year, um, is publishable and it's gonna get published. And that's something that I'm pretty proud of with the people, the students that come out of our lab as they, they do some high caliber work. Abby is only going to work with me for a quarter and she's going to be published in a Washington state. Noah, um, uh, what is it? The Puget sound partnerships, um, Puget sound report and there's not a lot of students on campus that will have those opportunities and they're doing wonderful work.
Speaker 2:
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[inaudible]
Speaker 1:
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hey everyone, it's Maria. I want you to take this opportunity to talk about, you'd have to coma center for urban waters. The center is that orange juice you're looking building on the east side of the thief falls waterway. Research conducted at the center is aim at understanding and quantifying their resources, pathways and the apex of chemical pollutants in urban water waves. The center is also working with partners on waste, restore and protect Puget sound. Learn more by visiting urban waters.org. Okay. Back to the show.
Speaker 2:
16:45
[inaudible]
Speaker 1:
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what does it mean for you to be a woman and be in science? So this is Julie. I, I, I've always just felt that I've, I've just been lucky. I've always had wonderful opportunities. I've never, um, felt that there was an issue being a woman or not. You know, I've had wonderful mentors who have been most both male and female and um, people, lots of mentors that have really let me have a voice, you know? And so I think it's powerful. Anytime people want me to talk about it, I'm always happy to. Um, and, and it's, it's kind of cool that the being ocean nerds and being actually scientists at University of Washington Tacoma, there's a lot of women, a lot of really powerful, very wise women that are teaching science. Not that our men aren't just as, you know, um, as awesome, but we don't find that there is a minority majority kind of an issue. So I've been really, really lucky to work in, uh, at the team at the University of Washington Tacoma. Yeah. What are some of the challenges that you found as you were, you know, in college and then you became a professor
Speaker 3:
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[inaudible] Julie that one time? This is Tracy. If she had dealt with imposter syndrome and she said like one time and the instructor told her, nobody knows what they're doing, that's why they're here. And so now when I get a little insecure, I think about Julie, I'm going to be that awesome. Like this is just for me to conquer and get through it. And um, I hope Abby gets that from Julie too. She seems more confident than me, but, um, we all get there. Right? And maybe that's Julie how instance such rad mentors, but like when I go out into the fishing community that I'm from and talk to people about science, they are surprised it's a woman. But then I get back here and I'm like, I have all these women that want to work with me that are so powerful and proud and amazing and such a supportive team that knowing that that's there in the science world is enough to just really propel you forward.
Speaker 1:
19:01
Have you had any challenges? Not that I can think of. I guess. I mean, I think for me one of my hardest things was like I transferred from different schools and so making like a relationship with faculty, it was Kinda hard for me. Um, but Julia is just like really open and like inviting. And she was like, if you ever need anything, like you can just email me. And so I just kinda asked her if there was anything that I could work on. And she was like, yeah, let's do it. And so I think that that was really cool. I think she is a great person to look up to. Wow, that's embarrassing. So I want to know more about the research that you're doing. Is there any outcomes that you've, you know, you've had so far with the research? Like specifically all of them are with a microplastics.
Speaker 1:
19:49
So with microplastics, I, you know, I can tell you a little bit about the history and I think it's important to kind of share because the University of Washington Tacoma has really been, um, heavily involved in the international research and plastics. Um, so we hosted the first international workshop on plastic pollution in the ocean in 2008 at here, you know, on campus. Um, and so it was at that meeting where we made that definition that we have, we've formalized the definition of what a microplastic is and what we knew about plastic and what we didn't know about plastic. And what we realize is we get the big stuff right. You can see the cans and you could see the pop bottle lids, but we really didn't understand what, how, what, how much microplastic was in the ocean. We also didn't know what the impacts were on the environment.
Speaker 1:
20:37
And so that was kind of a, it was a cool meeting. And after that meeting, basically Dr Joel Baker from the Center for urban waters, he came into my office about seven o'clock at night and says, Julia, what do you know about plastics? And I'm like, absolutely nothing but, but he knew that I really like to do microscope work and I wanted to look at, because of the work that I do with harmful algae, I also was, have been in the various side closet. And I think I actually set it up originally, um, where we have a, a research microscope in. Um, and so I like to do stuff on microscopes and there's people that love to do it and there's people that hate it. Um, and so I'm like, I dunno. But one of the things I think I can contribute, um, to our students in our program at Uwt is, um, I can get students together and get a group of students together to help approach the pro, the basically the problems, right?
Speaker 1:
21:30
So I didn't know what we were doing. These undergraduate students were like making colored solutions that were rainbows, that had different densities and they're trying, they were so creative and so awesome that they help develop this procedure that's used all over the world that's published on Noah's website and that's processing microplastics, um, in ocean environmental samples. That's cool. You know, my name's on it, but I give all the credit to those students that were doing all these great creative, wonderful kind of ideas to put this procedure manual together. So that's where it started. And then as we were trying to understand how much plastics in the ocean, which was really the original question like, Julie, can you figure out how much plastics in the ocean then? No Way. I mean that's ridiculous. It's a lot of work. But really they were looking for a method development and that's what we've done at, at UWT and were known all over the world.
Speaker 1:
22:26
I get emails from China and India and Wisconsin, you know, all over asking about that. And so what do we found? We found, you know, the looking at environmental samples so far, we don't see a change. You don't see it getting any greater. We don't see that it's getting any less. So what we don't know is where it's going, you know, and that's the big question now and what we really don't understand is the impacts of plastic and organisms because, um, they eat it and then it comes out the other end. You and I have eaten plastic, right? You guys have eaten plastic before, you know, you know, does it have a health impact? We don't know. And that's what I love about this research is it's a great question of, it's a, it's a place where even, you know, elementary school students that I talk to, I'm like, you can figure that out and I'll be here to help you, you know, try to try to put the puzzle together. So, yeah, it's been quite a, it's not ending. It's still very, uh, very active. Do you think is very important for students to know more about these issues or just for any people? I think everybody needs to be aware. And when did you guys find out about plastic in toothpaste?
Speaker 1:
23:41
Man, that's, this is trace. That's a tough question. I remember the micro bead thing. Yeah, right. Your
Speaker 3:
23:46
face cleanser. Everybody loved that morning burst.
Speaker 1:
23:49
Oh, I don't even know about that.
Speaker 3:
23:52
No, it was, I mean, I'm old kind of ish. I can't even remember. But, um, but we all knew that you shouldn't litter, but then to think about these things deteriorating and that, you know, the plastics in a soda bottle can cover the whole west coast of North America. You think about that on a microscopic level. And that's bonkers. Like where are we headed? Yeah.
Speaker 1:
24:20
I think when I started, well before I started doing research, I always thought of plastic as like the plastic island that you hear about in the ocean and like the bigger plastics and stuff like that. I feel like it's different to think about it on like a smaller, smaller level. And so when I started looking at the samples, but Julie has, um, when I was looking under a microscope, I expected to see like, oh, these little colorful pieces of plastic and stuff. But what I've found so far, which of barely done anything of like all the samples that have to do, I've only done two, I've just found fibers for the most part is those little ones that you can't see with your eyes. It's just much smaller than that. And this is Julian and this happens is not to see you Abby. But she's like, I don't see anything.
Speaker 1:
25:01
And I'm like, well, let's have a look together. So she was like, oh. So it's a lot of work. Yeah. Yeah. What are some things that are very contaminating the, we can stop? Well, I think that's its behaviors, right? It's the only reason why there's plastic pollution in the ocean is because of humans. Like it came from you. It came from me. And whether it was done intentionally or unintentionally, we have to figure out the best way to get it out of the environment. And the best way is not to recycle. It's not to throw it in the garbage can, is to use less. It's, we need to stop being a consumerist kind of, uh, uh, population, you know, and use less. That's it. I'm not saying get rid of plastic. You know, I, I use plastic, my glasses are made out of plastic, but it's really thinking, being, having a conscious, um, being really conscious about using things over and over again, not going to Starbucks and getting a to go cup.
Speaker 1:
25:57
Right. I know. But, and, and, and I watched, you know, even my environmental science, um, um, fat, you know, colleagues, you know, who are scientists, they know this, they still will use, you know, they won't reuse cups. You know, I carry around all my stuff and I mention it because it's true. It's, it's here, we have cups here, you know, but we don't have to, if we just make a little bit of extra effort and use less, I mean that's the big thing. Can we clean up the environment from plastic? Probably not. Right. But we can turn off the faucet. We can stop putting, doing the input and it's going to start with you. It's going to start with these guys here that are in the room with me. It's going to start with everybody that's listening to this podcast. It's just being conscious, not using as much, you know, um, and you still should recycle and put things in garbage cans, but, but the largest impact is zero impact.
Speaker 1:
26:53
So the research that you're doing, um, I can other students get involved. Of course. I always tell folks that, yes, definitely. I have decades of work to do. Um, and there's always opportunities for more, you know, so there's a lot of groups that want to partner up with me. Um, I partner up with other environmental education groups. So there's lots of opportunities for students, um, to come in, especially, you know, university students. But, but I'll take anyone who's really willing to put in the time, um, and really wants to answer the question and be dedicated to it to try and to find out some of the answers to a lot of the questions that we have. So I want to go back to, uh, Abby and Tracy. So what makes a good teacher? This is that be, um, I think that what makes a good teacher is someone who is passionate about the stuff that they're talking about in the work that they're doing. Because you can tell when your teacher is like enthusiastic about what they're talking about and it makes you want to do and like work with that person. So it's more of like their attitude I think, and their willingness to like help and how they feel about the subject that they're talking about.
Speaker 3:
28:08
Yeah. Uh, this is Tracy. When I, what I look for in a great professor in what Julie's certainly is, is, uh, someone with high stoke level killer dance moves and a lot of patients and like there's like a secret nurturer in there that just like lets you fail a little bit flail around, but is right there to pick you up or nudge you, just write in the right direction. And um, she's truly been transformative to work with Julie
Speaker 2:
28:39
[inaudible].
Speaker 4:
28:48
Thank you to our guests and a big thank you to our senior lecturer, Nicole Blair for letting us play your music on the show. Thank you to moon y'all recording studio and thank you for joining us today. Be sure to subscribe and go to iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts, stitcher and pocket cast.
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