HomeTechTurkish researchers' microplastic detection tech enters global literature

Turkish researchers’ microplastic detection tech enters global literature


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Turkish researchers have garnered international acclaim for their technology, which swiftly identifies the environmental and health risks associated with microplastic particles.

Data on the work by Selim Hanay, a faculty member at the Mechanical Engineering Department at Bilkent University in the Turkish capital Ankara, and his colleagues was published in the international scientific journal Advanced Materials.

Hanay’s new technology was also supported by the European Research Council (ERC) startup program and the ERC Proof of Concept program, prestigious European Union funding programs.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Hanay said scientists believe an amount of microplastics equivalent to a credit card enters the average human body once a week through food, liquids or the air.

Microplastics and nanoplastics smaller than 5 millimeters cannot be excreted from the body as they are not biodegradable, he said.

“Plastic particles below 100 nanometers can enter human cells and accumulate in the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier. This situation threatens human health,” he said, stressing that current techniques are not yet advanced enough to spot nanoplastics.

He underscored that these ultra-tiny particles accumulate in key tissues in the body and can adversely impact health.

Emphasizing that detecting microplastics below 20 micrometers, which is the size of a human cell, is difficult for existing technologies, Hanay said that analyses by these devices are both protracted and expensive.

“With such devices, it takes at least 10 minutes to analyze a single microplastic particle. But thousands of particles need to be analyzed continuously to measure this threat,” he explained.

The device technology developed by researchers at Bilkent University, which swiftly and with high precision detects the environmental and health threats posed by microplastic particles, considered one of the biggest pollutants in the sea, ocean and drinking water, has been included in international literature, Ankara, Türkiye, March 3, 2024. (AA Photo)

“Today, these analyses are slow and expensive, requiring trained staff with PhDs. For instance, if we want to contract a company to do a microplastic analysis in Europe, they can’t give us the results before six weeks.”

Hanay said that fast, cheap techniques are needed to monitor microplastics, especially in drinking water and that the system they recently developed meets this need.

Noting that they developed the first device to analyze using an electronic method, he said they were first able to classify microplastics of 20 micrometers and below.

“The sensors we’ve developed for the device can classify micro-sized plastics, glass materials and particles containing additives called titanium dioxide. These sensors use very small liquid channels called microfluidic channels.

“As the particles flow through this channel, they make two electronic measurements one after the other. When we combine these two electronic measurements, we get the electronic properties of these particles. This system can perform a faster and more practical classification compared to slower and more expensive spectroscopic methods,” he said.

Quick detection of possible threat

Hanay said they have a two-stage plan for the system: “First, we want to establish a service that can analyze water (for microplastics). When an institution wants to have its water analyzed, we do this using various techniques.

“We want to send the results back to the user in a day or so. Thus, a possible source of microplastic contamination in drinking water will be detected quickly.”

Saying that these particles accumulate in rivers and seas, he stressed that their “work has important implications for monitoring and reducing microplastic pollution.”

He added: “The device offers a fast, cost-effective, and portable solution for on-site analysis of water samples. It can be deployed worldwide to assess microplastic pollution levels in a variety of water environments, including rivers, lakes and oceans.

“We want to demonstrate how this technology can be advanced with stakeholders in both Türkiye and Europe, such as local and city governments, water utilities and ministries.”

Hanay said that in another project on the same subject supported by Türkiye’s Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBITAK), work is ongoing to develop a device to measure the risk of nanoplastics in water and air.

Stating that the project is supported by ERC startup and ERC Proof of Concept grants, he said: “We have about one more year in the project. Step by step, we’re working on the remaining problems of examining different plastic shapes here.

“After making these technical advances, we will offer this application as a service to various institutions.”

Hanay stated that the findings on the proof of concept of the device they developed were published in Advanced Materials, a weekly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering materials science, and so made public to the scientific world.

He said they were entitled to get support from the European Research Council for practical applications of their “groundbreaking” work.

Stating that steps have started to be taken against microplastic pollution in different parts of the world, Hanay said under a new law in the U.S. state of California, microplastic pollution in drinking water will be checked continuously, and similar measures are being discussed in both Canada and the EU.

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