NSF Awards $1M to Boost Bioenvironmental Science PhD Program

A lake filled with pollution
A lake polluted with plastics. Image by Yogendra Singh from Pixabay

Dr. Chunlei Fan, Professor of Biology, has been awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the amount of $999,999 to boost the Bioenvironmental Science (BIOE) PhD Program through the project: “HBCU-RISE: Enhancing research and education infrastructure at Morgan State University: Microplastics in the estuarine ecosystem.” This project provides funding for graduate students and research endeavors of the program faculty.

Microplastics are increasingly recognized as some of the most problematic pollutants in water systems all over the world. Classified as plastic contaminants smaller than five millimeters in length, microplastics are most commonly known in the form of microbeads, or tiny plastic particles manufactured for use in health products, such as exfoliants and toothpaste, or as abrasives in some cleaning products. However, microplastics come from a wide variety of sources, as larger plastic products break down while passing through waterways and the ocean. Aquatic life and birds unable to distinguish microplastics from food will eat them, leading to problems of bioaccumulation in themselves and as they pass up the food chain. Although the use of microbeads in personal care products was banned in 2015, microplastics will continue to be a problem for many years to come, and there is much we have to yet learn about their impact on the environment.

Dr. Chunlei Fan
Dr. Chunlei Fan

Using the Chesapeake Bay as a model estuarine system, Dr. Fan and his interdisciplinary team of faculty from Biology, Chemistry and the Patuxent Environmental & Aquatic Research Laboratory (PEARL) will study the composition and abundance of microplastics and their sources, their transport/fate throughout the waterways, and their impact on the aquatic environment and life forms. This grant will help the team establish a core marine research laboratory with state of the art equipment, develop and offer new courses in the BIOE PhD Program, recruit new students to the BIOE program, and provide those students with the infrastructure and resources they need to carry out important research and complete the program.

The overarching aim of the project is to promote Morgan’s strategic goal to enhance the University as a doctoral research institution and achieve the designation as a Very High Research Activity Institution (Carnegie R-1 classification) by providing research and education opportunities to recruit, retain and graduate underrepresented minority doctoral students. “Dr. Fan has done an excellent job as the Director of the Bioenvironmental Science PhD Program and as a researcher carrying out important environmental studies at the PEARL,” remarked Dean Hongtao Yu, “I am thankful that the NSF has chosen to fund this worthy project to conduct important research in microplastics and train our Bioenvironmental Science PhD students.”