Plastics & Microplastics

The threats posed by plastic pollution are no longer a mystery. We now know how plastic debris is choking marine mammals, filling the stomachs of seabirds, and suffocating coral reefs. What we may not realize, however, is what we cannot see: microplastics. 

Microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on Earth and are one of the most critical ocean pollution concerns of our time.

The Shaw Institute has pioneered research techniques on microplastic pollution, and, at present, is one of the only research institutes with a focused microplastics research program in Maine. We use an instrument called a FTIR (Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy) to identify the polymers and study how they behave in a given substrate or even within the bodies of marine organisms.

We are now exploring human tissues for the presence of microplastics as their impact within our bodies is less understood.


We can take any unknown plastic as seen with medical waste we analyze (A) and by using our new FTIR instrument (B) we can collect a spectra (C) and identify the plastic type (D). 

FTIR spectra from a microplastic collected on a New Hampshire beach. The spectrum was matched to a database spectrum of polypropylene and confirmed with open-source software


Research Staff

Charles Rolsky, Ph.D.
Executive Director & Senior Research Scientist

Michelle Berger, MA, GCPH
Associate Scientist