Tiny particles of plastic are seemingly everywhere: So-called microplastics have been found in the ocean, tap water, bottled water, soil and the air we breathe. Microplastics in the oceans are ingested by aquatic life and enter the food chain. Indeed, microplastics have been detected in seafood, including tuna, lobster and oysters. Humans are also likely exposed to microplastics as a result of plastic contamination from food packaging or processing.

Little is known about the health effects of microplastics, but there's concern that the pervasive plastics may affect our gastrointestinal health, possibly reach other organs as well act as transport vectors of chemical pollutants.  

Professor Thomas will present the current state-of-the art in understanding how we are exposed to microplastics, and their associated additives, in our daily lives and which areas need further research in order to understand whether microplastics do pose a threat to human health.

Professor Kevin Thomas
Centre Director, Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences

Kevin’s research interests are centred on understanding the environmental fate, behaviour, effects and risks associated with man-made pollutants of emerging concern with the goal of protecting environmental and human health. His current research is focused on assessing community-wide health status through fingerprinting wastewater, establishing alternative approaches to exposure monitoring, for example explanted silicone prostheses and wristbands, understanding human exposure to microplastic particulate pollution and developing analytical methods for characterising man-made pollutants of emerging concern.


Bronwyn Laycock Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock   
School of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and IT

Bronwyn is a polymer scientist working in the school of Chemical Engineering. She has had a long history in making advanced polymeric materials, such as extended wear contact lenses and high temperature aircraft composites.

Now, however, her research is focussed on the environmental sustainability of the plastics economy. She has been working on polymers made by bacteria for the last ten years – polymers that are like polyethylene and polypropylene in many ways but that biodegrade in any environment where bacteria are present. Currently, her team is making these materials from methane and CO2, as well as other waste products, as well as developing truly biodegradable wood biopolymer composites.

She is also working on the use of biopolymers to make more efficient fertilisers and other better controlled release materials for agricultural and veterinary applications. In parallel, Bronwyn and her colleagues have recently been partnering with the Queensland Government to help develop the plastic waste reduction plan and in parallel have been conducting surveys of the Australian public to understand their attitudes to plastic.  

About Global Leadership Series

The Global Leadership Series (GLS) is a lively program of events for alumni and community members. Join us for lectures and discussions with the best of the best UQ-related speakers on matters that impact your community and shape your ideas of the world.

The series is an opportunity for you to engage with great minds on global matters, participate in thought-provoking discussions and network with UQ alumni and community members. All alumni, parents, community members and friends are welcome to attend the Global Leadership Series events.

Listen to podcasts of previous GLS events click here


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