While the image of a sea turtle eating a plastic bag is an iconic illustration of the danger of plastic pollution, less obvious is the threat posed by the invisible or barely visible bits of plastic in the environment known as microplastics.
Chelsea Rochman has spent much of her career conducting pioneering work on the source of microplastics, what happens to them once they enter the environment and what effect they have on organisms as well as marine and freshwater ecosystems.
Rochman has conducted pioneering work in this young field and is currently planning or conducting research programs in the Canadian Arctic, Ontario watersheds, the Great Lakes and the IISD Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern Ontario. In the ELA, she will be leading the first ever whole-ecosystem experiment on microplastics, using an entire ELA lake as her lab.
“Although plastics have improved the lives of millions, we are now recognizing that plastic pollution may transform our ocean’s ecosystems,” she says. “As policy-makers seek to understand and respond to plastic pollution, there is an urgency for further scientific inquiry to inform decisions. I’m incredibly grateful to the Sloan Foundation for providing me the resources to answer this call.”
Rochman has worked extensively with industry, government and the public. She was an expert witness in hearings that culminated in December 2015, when President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act that banned plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. She continues to participate in UN meetings with the ultimate goal of a global treaty on plastic pollution.
Three University of Toronto researchers — all from the from the Faculty of Arts & Science — have been awarded prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships for 2020.
Renée Hložek, an assistant professor at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor at the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Ila Varma, an assistant professor at the Department of Mathematics will each receive USD $75,000 over a two-year period to stimulate their fundamental research.
“We are very proud of these wonderful researchers who have achieved such exemplary work so early in their careers,” says Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty. “They have demonstrated both the exceptional level of research being done within disciplines, as well as the diversity of scholarship throughout the Faculty. It’s wonderful to see them join the ranks of our distinguished U of T Sloan Fellows.”
Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded since 1955 and recognize extraordinary early career researchers at US and Canadian institutions for their high standards for achievement, creativity and leadership.
“To receive a Sloan Research Fellowship is to be told by your fellow scientists that you stand out among your peers,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “A Sloan Research Fellow is someone whose drive, creativity and insight makes them a researcher to watch.”