There is a growing interest in the presence of microplastics and microfibers in our environment – land, sea, and air, and in our food. Fluorescence is not a tool for precise identification of the type of plastic, but it can be an aid in detecting microplastics within a sample.

We’ve received our NIGHTSEA microscope adaptor kit (Royal Blue & UV) and all I can say is WOW! What a difference they make to seeing plastic materials! I’m certainly going to apply for funds to purchase more to support our teaching and research.

Nile red is seeing growing use as a dye that binds preferentially to plastics and enhances fluorescence, but even without special treatment, fluorescence can help find small subjects. Once found, the particles or fibers can then be processed for identification with other techniques if necessary. Fluorescence can be a great tool as part of a larger study, or for citizen science projects to look at waterways, beaches, soils, and more.

Below are white-light (left), ultraviolet-excited fluorescence (center) and blue-light-excited fluorescence (right) stereo microscope images of an assortment of fibers collected in washing machine discharge. Note that these three images are showing exactly the same area.

(Click any image for larger view)

We have several microplastics resources on our web site and will be adding more:

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