Drone-based Water Sampler for Micro-Plastics Research

Worldwide pollution is a problem that is growing exponentially daily, especially in the ocean. Plastics are the most abundant marine contamination in this ocean pollution, representing around 80% of all marine contamination. These plastics are in different shapes and sizes, with those measuring less than 5 mm long called microplastics. A publicly available data set shows that 24,4 trillion pieces of microplastics have been found in the world’s oceans in 8,218 pelagic microplastics samples. The study of microplastic contamination is an emerging field of study. Sample collection and analysis methods are being developed and tested and undergoing studies to understand their impact. However, water sample equipment for microplastic research is hard to find on the market. It entails the desire that no components may affect the sample and the way of getting it pollutes as little as possible. Therefore, it is crucial to find a low-cost, high-frequency, and safe water microplastic sampling technology that will allow research teams to sample them. Using a drone instead of a boat, for example, reduces the chances that surrounding water will be spoiled and hence the water sample itself.

To assess the impact of microplastic, it is necessary to analyze its presence in different bodies of water, including oceans, lakes, glaciers, rivers, and more. Contamination directly affects the ecosystem of the affected water while also affecting the people who use those water sources. Therefore, to perform a correct analysis, efficient and economical microplastic sampling methods must be developed, which is the purpose of this project. The idea for this drone-based microplastics sampling system is built on initial research by MSc students in Joe Foley’s ”Precision Machine Design” class in 2021. The team was tasked with designing an under-2kg water sampling device suitable for mounting to various drones. They developed a passively actuated valve system for a metal bottle that contained no plastic. Unfortunately, the valve system was unreliable due to manufacturing limitations, and the machined bottle exceeded the weight limit. Despite these setbacks, the initial work inspired and provided valuable background research for this proposal.


Gleny Milena Arias Huaman

Joseph Timothy Foley