Beachcomber Katie Veasey ’17 developed an ongoing research project that earned her a chance to speak at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in April. For an undergraduate, that’s a significant honor.
Veasey is an environmental studies major with a chemistry focus, and her project looks at microplastics pollution on coastal New Jersey and nearby Sandy Hook Bay beaches. She did her first scientific beachcombing as a rising sophomore when she was a marine science intern at the nonprofit Clean Ocean Action, where she analyzed and processed microplastics from New Jersey beaches.
Intrigued by the work, Veasey applied for a Hamilton Emerson grant to study microplastics pollution the next summer with Sarah Rosenstein as her advisor. Rosenstein is a biochemist and Hamilton lab supervisor. Veasey got the grant, and her summer research evolved into her senior thesis project, with Rosenstein as her advisor.
Among other things, Veasey is studying the chemicals that cling to the microplastics, extracting and analyzing them, looking for persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. To her surprise she’s found many more hydrocarbons than organic pollutants, and she and Rosenstein are working to determine their sources. They think they come from sources such as petroleum and diesel spills.
Their most unexpected finding — diatoms, which are algae, living on the surface of the deteriorating plastics. With the help of Associate Professor of Biology Mike McCormick, Veasey extracted DNA from the plastics for analysis and is awaiting the results that will identify the species there.
Veasey, says her advisor, is a terrific student engaged in painstaking work, especially collecting the plastics.
“She had to put down ropes and lay out a grid on the wrack line, where everything washes up, and then she had to sit there on her hands and knees with tweezers and put them in the vials. And she did that at 16 different sites, in Sandy Hook Bay and all the way down the coast,” Rosenstein says.
Post Hamilton, Veasey wants to do environmental chemistry research and eventually enter grad school — but first she faces the chemistry conference in San Francisco. Rosenstein can’t be there with her but is helping her prep to speak at a session on coastal pollution. The American Chemical Society, which bills itself as “the world’s largest scientific society” with nearly 157,000 members, says its national meetings draw upwards of 11,000 participants and include more than 7,000 presentations.