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News and events

News & events

A person stands on the dock talking to a group of people in kayaks in the water

Traversing the James River to learn about its biodiversity and history

June 16, 2022

(Sarah Gordon teaches about microplastics in rivers to VCU students participating in Footprints on the James, a five-week experiential course to learn about the biodiversity and history of the James River. Photo: Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

By Brian McNeill

A dozen Virginia Commonwealth University students and one Reynolds Community College student have just returned from a quick canoe trip at the VCU Rice Rivers Center. Their assignment: Paddle out from the dock and observe any litter, estimate its age and record its location.

“What did you all see out there?” asked instructor Sarah Gordon.

“Plastic. Glass and plastic,” said one student. Another held up a Blow Pop wrapper she’d scooped out of the water, along with a plastic bottle she found that had a plant growing out of it.

“That’s great,” Gordon said. “The experiment we’re doing today is asking: Are there microplastics in the water here? Why or why not? And how would you test that?”

Over the next couple of hours, Gordon, who teaches at Colorado Mountain College, led the students through the process of collecting samples from the water, and then using microscopes to detect any microplastics that might be present.

Read the entire VCU News story, "Traversing the James River to learn about its biodiversity and history."

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