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On the banks of the Red Cedar, student researches microplastics on campus 

By Sloane Barlow 

Third-year student Nicole Smith first began her microbiology research journey with the guidance of the Honors College.  

Smith is currently an Environmental Biology student with a concentration in Microbiology and a minor in Spanish. At the start of her time at Michigan State, Smith began her professorial assistantship through a program offered to a select number of first-year students within the Honors College.  

Smith has conducted two projects through her professorial assistantship under Dr. Matthew Schrenk. Her current project was inspired by a concern of plastic waste in the environment. 

“I have always had a passion for investigating how we are changing the world around us, and it started with experiments on the ocean, specifically ocean acidification,” said Smith. “That is why I decided to use surface water as the base for my microplastic research.” 

Smith has practiced her technique on Michigan State’s very own Red Cedar River, a location commonly studied by other Natural Science majors on campus.  

“My research focuses on microplastics within estuaries, which are high nutrient environments between freshwater and saltwater sources,” Smith said. “Specifically, I want to see how the presence of microplastics in the high nutrient environments influences organic matter degradation by microorganisms along with the community structure within the sediments.”

“My research will include analysis of the metabolic pathways and microbial taxa through 16s rRNA sequencing,” Smith said. 

Smith will be graduating this upcoming spring and will continue working in Schrenk Labs until she finishes her master’s degree in 2025. After she leaves Michigan State and the Honors College, she hopes to continue researching similar topics as a full-time career.   

“In the future, I hope to work within environmental programs dedicated to conservation and sustainability research,” Smith said. “I would love to continue researching and educating youth about ways to help our environment.” 

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