startups, accessing the equipment available at the University would otherwise prove cost prohibitive. “We have a united front so it’s easy for an industry person coming from the outside. It’s one- stop shopping,” Thornber said. The equipment also sets up students for success in their future careers. Oyanedel-Craver said there is more than learning how to use a microscope or other imaging equipment. While one person operates the equipment, there might be dozens or even hundreds of people — engineers, programmers, chemists and physicists, among others — involved in analyzing the results for meaningful discoveries. URI students, Oyanedel-Craver said, sit at the unique crossroads where they can collect a sample, analyze it at the nano level and interpret the results without ever leaving campus. And in studying samples sent by vendors, students often detect subtle differences between the sample’s claimed material composition and what arrived in the box. Vendors often confirm that these minute differences are within the promised tolerances that most people never notice because they lack access to the sophisticated labs. “It’s very cool what we can measure,” Oyanedel- Craver said. “It’s the best equipment you can have.”

A 96-well plate showing powders of microplastics used on experiments. Photo by Beau Jones

Microplastics prepared to be analyzed by scanning electron microscopy Photo by Beau Jones

URI Initiative Plastics: Land to Sea SPRING | 2021 Page 29

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