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TJC professor earns scholarship to study effects of microplastics on rivers

Tyler Junior College Geology Professor Rebecca Owens has been named a 2020 Mills Scholarship recipient by the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI).

The TWRI is affiliated with Texas A&M University, where Owens is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Water Management and Hydrological Sciences.
 
The Mills Scholarship will allow Owens to conduct a study on the impacts of microplastics on urban rivers. Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter.
 
“In 1967 there was, indeed, a great future in plastics, as Mr. McGuire foretold an ambivalent Benjamin Braddock (in the feature film, ‘The Graduate’),” Owens said in her Mills Scholarship proposal.
 
“Half a century later, plastic pollution is a major environmental concern at all scales of observation. The presence and impact of microplastics in the marine realm has gained attention as a serious threat to ocean ecosystems.”
 
She continued, “Very little is known, however, about microplastic release on land, storage in soils and sediments and transport by run-off and rivers. This represents a major oversight, as river systems are the source of a great amount of microplastics and are a transit route for microplastics headed to the ocean. The proposed research will assess the presence of microplastics in the riverbed and bank sediment from select urban rivers in Texas.”
 
She said sediment samples will be analyzed using a Raman confocal microscope for microplastic presence. The samples will be collected from urbanized portions of at least two rivers and downstream for approximately five miles, allowing for assessment of the transport and settling rate of microplastics in the river environment.
 
A native of Huffman, Owens earned her Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies and Master of Science in geology from Texas A&M University. She joined TJC as a professor in 2012.

The Texas Water Resources Institute has helped solve Texas’ water issues through research, education and outreach for 66 years.

Established in 1952, TWRI became the state’s official water resources institute in 1964. Today, it is one of 54 institutes within the National Institutes for Water Resources, supported by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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