How to Identify Plastics in the Delaware Bay? These Students Have the Answer

The environment is diverse, dynamic and teeming with questions. How do striped bass larvae identify a safe place to grow? Can we combat pollution in the Arctic by modifying the routes of cargo ships? How much would you pay for a Delaware-raised oyster?

Those were among the topics examined at the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) student conference on March 7 at University of Delaware. The goal was to showcase the work of graduate students, provide an opportunity to network with peers and mentors, and learn about other environmental research taking place throughout the University.

Katherine Hudson, featured in an image above, is a graduate student at the School of Marine Science and Policy. She gave a presentation about her work in the Western Antarctic Peninsula.


It was a standing room only crowd for this fourth annual symposium, an event that has been growing steadily in interest. The 52 student presentations represent an increase of 60% over last year.

“It’s a competitive process and we were excited to see the breadth of topics that we offered,” said Kyra Kim, a DENIN fellow and the program chair.

DENIN brings together diverse academic disciplines to develop practical solutions for environmental concerns surrounding food and water security, climate changes, and biodiversity. Students spanned disciplinary areas from natural and physical sciences to social sciences.

Pei Chiu of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is faculty adviser to Danhui Xin, a DENIN fellow who gave a presentation on quantifying the electron storage capacity of biochar, a charcoal-based soil amendment that is rich in carbon and can endure for thousands of years.

“This is a great opportunity to see research from many perspectives and disciplines under the same roof,” he said.


In addition to scientific talks, the event included 44 posters from which three were selected for prizes:

  • First place: Anna Internicola, School of Marine Science & Policy, advised by Jonathan Cohen, for Identifying Microplastic in the Delaware Bay through FTIR Analysis
  • Second place:  Zhongyuan Xu, Water, Science & Policy Program, advised by Holly Michael, for Static and dynamic connectivity metrics for subsurface flow and transport in a deltaic aquifer
  • Third place: Taozhu Sun, Department of Plant & Soil Sciences, advised by Yan Jin, for Mechanistic Investigation of Colloid Retention on and Removal from PDMS Replicas of Fresh Produce

The event was organized and executed by the DENIN Environmental Fellows, whose scientific research and interests address societal needs and benefits. 

Photos by Evan Krape

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About the Contributor

Eileen Smith Dallabrida

Eileen Smith Dallabrida

Eileen Smith Dallabrida is an award-winning journalist and blogger who has written for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, the Christian Science Monitor and more than 50 other media outlets. She was runner-up for the national Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) prize for her work with the Gannett New Jersey group.