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Olivia Laurie's

Capstone Project

This project reflects learning in at least one of the program's central themes. It involves experiential education, community engagement, research at the University of Hartford Library, a research paper, and creating a unique product. The products represent different genres and share multiple perspectives on our project topics. In a multigenre research project style, we show our understanding through creative work such as leading workshops, podcasts, videos, and documentaries.

microplastics samsung patagonia roya.png
microplastics samsung patagonia roya.png

Essential Question

Although NMPs (Nano-Microplastics) are relatively new to the scientific community, they are dangerous to the environment, wildlife, and humans; and these impacts will only increase as knowledge surrounding NMPs grows along with plastic production. 

Connection to Global Studies Themes

Global Health: Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastics that are harmful and dangerous to humans. They can damage the cellular structure, leading to allergic reactions and even cell death. While there are not many extensive group studies on microplastics, there is evidence that they are incredibly harmful to us and are found in almost all beauty products and textiles, in drinks, food, and even in the air.

Environmental Change: From what we’ve seen, microplastics are found almost everywhere. These synthetic particles are incredibly harmful to organisms, from creatures as big as blue whales to as small as star-nosed moles. It's no question that they can also have severe effects on flora, especially since microplastics can even be found in the soil and in the stomachs of aquatic fauna. 

Sustainable Development Goals: It's shocking to hear that billions of microscopic particles around us are detrimental to our bodies. But it's even more shocking that we are the leading cause. Most microplastics come from commercial product development and the breakdown of larger plastics. Because of this, we need to find a way to be more sustainable and not release these harmful chemicals into the environment.


Key Learning

  • One of the main factors that make microplastics lethal to various organisms is the chemicals found in synthetic plastics. Chemicals like BPAs, flame retardants, and resins aid in strength and flexibility. These and other chemical stabilizers are often found in NMPs and are thought to cause hormonal disruptions and inflammation and can trigger changes in gene expression and other vital biochemical functions of the body. 

  • The less well-known nanoplastics are far more dangerous than microplastics due to their one difference: size. While microplastics are 5 millimeters to >.1 micrometers, nanometers are much smaller and are small enough to pass through the cell walls of both animals and plants. Since nanoplastics are capable of such mobility, they have the possibility to affect us in more and vastly more lethal ways.

  • Even as more information about plastics and their harmful effects is released, plastic production continues to grow exponentially. In 2020, 367 million metric tons of plastics were produced (including NMPs), which is expected to triple by 2050. 

  • There are several health-related issues that we know are caused by NMPs:

    • Disruption of hormonal systems

    • Weakened fertility 

    • Asthma and lung irritation, Dizziness, headaches, and COPD

    • Oxidative Stress

  • But there are several more that we think might be caused by NMPs. However, more research is required to confirm these:

    • Cancer and tumors

    • Attacking proteins

    • Cell damage

      • Traversing cell walls or placenta

      • Gene expression

      • Biochemical reactions


First Product: Paper

My paper 20-page paper, titled The Invisible Epidemic: Nano-microplastics and their Contamination of the Planet covered all of the research I have collected over the past several months. I started my paper by defining what NMPs are while demonstrating the different sources they originate from. Using the research and infographics, I break down three different groups of life that NMPs greatly affect: environmental, wildlife, and humans. Throughout the paper, I refer back to the public's biases and stigmas causing extreme distrust and desensitization to the scientific communities' warnings. The passages that mention the destabilized image of NMPs and their effects contain some of my strongest writing. I encourage everyone to read the paper, not only for one's enjoyment but for the betterment of our planet. The biggest contributor to NMP pollution is misinformation. Without proper education on our world's hidden pollutants, the problem will only continue to get worse until the damage done to our environment, wildlife and health is irreversible. 

Screenshot 2023-02-22 102347_edited_edit

Read my full paper here!

The continued stabilization and destabilization, affirming and contesting, agreement and disagreement surrounding NMPs as “risk objects” has undermined the public’s trust in the scientific community and has now desensitized them to the warnings researchers are now saying they have evidence for. This distrust has become a massive barrier between scientists and the public; the longer society waits to act on the NMP epidemic, the worse it will get

Olivia Laurie in The Invisible Epidemic: Nano-microplastics and their Contamination of the Planet

Second Product: Infographic

For my second product, I created an infographic titled The Truth Behind Nano-microplastics. I chose my medium to be an infographic, hoping that more people might take something away from skimming through an infographic rather than reading a whole 20-page paper. I have found that while my topic is incredibly important, very few people have a sufficient understanding of what NMPs are, and even fewer know of the health effects they can have. I aim to design my three products around educating as many individuals as possible. My paper serves as an in-depth breakdown of NMPs for academically drawn individuals who wish to read a research paper surrounding the topic. However, the intended audience of my infographic is specifically people who might not otherwise be interested in reading research but care about the environment and their health. Thus, my infographic is essentially a shortened version of the most important parts of my paper, so that people can get the most out of reading the least. I plan for my third product to be a different medium that attracts a different audience.

Plastic Bag in Ocean


More to come soon! 

I am currently building my Capstone in Global Studies. Please check back soon for more updates and content!

Until then, if my study of microplastics interests you and you want to learn more, check out these resources:

Third Product: Sculpture

For my third product, I created a 3D sculpture titled Made of Plastic. The sculpture is a framed image with a 3-dimensional mosaic of a Humpback whale, sized at 3x4 feet. I chose to make a sculpture to round out how to educate others on the harmful effects of NMPs. While I had a paper for academically inclined individuals and an infographic for people in a rush, I wanted to find a medium that would appeal to a more visual and artistic audience. Oftentimes, the best way to get people to understand the weight and severity of a cause is through empathy. And while I had plenty of information about the humans affected by NMPs, I realized that neither of my products solely focused on struggling wildlife and nature. Thus, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make an art piece that forced people to empathize with a species that struggle because of NMP pollution. After referring back to my research paper, an idea hit me: the most affected species are the largest species due to the process of biomagnification. I knew I had to pick the largest animal of all, a whale, to show that even the smallest plastic particles can decimate these gentle giants. To aid in empathizing with the whale, I depicted it doing what is commonly known as 'whale dancing', which is a type of behavior seen in almost every species of whale that consist of underwater movements and even acrobatics with other whales. However, a key detail I added was to make the whale dance by itself to demonstrate the species decreasing population due to, among other things, plastic pollution. The emptiness of the landscape is evident and the whale's movements look almost incomplete, as if there is another whale missing from the picture entirely. With this piece, I hope to inspire empathy in the hearts of all audiences, particularly artistic individuals. 

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