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Research Fellowships

Research on the Role of Microplastics at the Interface of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems

EPA Office of Research and Development

EPA National Science Foundation Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP) & Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Opportunities


Opportunity Title:

Research on the Role of Microplastics at the Interface of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems

Research Area:


EPA Lab/Center/Office:

Center for Public Health & Environmental Assessment, Pacific Ecological Systems Division (PESD)


Corvallis, OR


 3 to 12 months 

Brief Summary:

We seek a candidate interested in assessing toxicity of microplastics at the terrestial-aquatic interface. The student project will involve working with a team to develop methods for extracting and characterizing mircoplastics from environmental media. The student will develop methods and quantify the effects of microplastics on terrestrial and/or aquatic organisms using mesocosm and molecular techniques. 

Opportunity Description:

This is an excellent opportunity for an NSF Fellow to learn about the emerging field of microplastics research, including the fate and transport of microplastics at the aquatic-terrestrial interface, and how to investigate plastic impacts on ecosystems using molecular and organismal indicators. The accumulation and impacts of microplastics have been recognized as an important environmental issue, with deposition occurring even in remote areas far from population centers.  These materials are persistent, vary widely in chemical composition, and can occur with co-contaminants.  Although there is widespread recognition of microplastic contamination in marine systems, exposure risk to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems has not been widely investigated.  We seek a candidate who is interested in learning new methods and scientific approaches for assessing the potential toxicity of microplastics in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  The proposed research will focus on one or more of the following areas: 1) developing methods for extracting microplastics from environmental media; 2) characterizing microplastics using state-of-the-art spectroscopic and microscopic methods; and 3) quantify the effects of microplastics on terrestrial and/or aquatic organisms, including molecular mechanisms of response. This project aims to generate standardized methods for quantifying the volume and diversity of plastics in the environment and for elucidating the current and future environmental risk posed by microplastics. The candidate will gain experience with sample collection and prep, operating instrumentation, developing SOP’s, constructing and sampling mesocosms, and applying molecular-genetic response techniques.

Opportunities for Professional Development:

The candidate will have the opportunity to gain experience with lab and mesocosm techniques employed at the EPA and be part of a team that is developing standard Agency methods for plastics.  The PESD lab is employs state of the art molecular marker techniques for assessing organismal effects of nanoparticles which may be modified for application to nano and microplastics.   Multiple mesocosm techniques are employed at PSED that simulate terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and organismal interaction.  The candidate will be working with multiple EPA researchers at PSED and researchers from other EPA/ORD labs across the nation, and research partners from universities.  This project will expose the candidate to regional and state water program offices and field and lab staff.  Building collaborations, communicating results, trouble shooting, and presentation of results to state and federal partners are skills that would also be developed.

Point of Contact or Mentor:

Christian P. Andersen (

Paul Mayer (

NSF Field(s) of Study:

Please contact the EPA mentors

For more information about EPA Research Fellowship opportunities, visit: