Alice Fugagnoli

University of Leicester


Plastic a new anthropogenic component of the geological cycle: its chemical and physical behaviour and transformation


Gabbott Sarah, Boom Arnoud

PhD Summary

This project will use a suite of cutting edge analytical techniques and experimental design to address an important and significant problem: the behaviour of plastics within the geological cycle. A number of recent studies have elucidated the extent of the plastics problem on Earth with now 8.3 billion tons on our planet (Geyer et al. 2017), much of which (between approximately 5-nearly 13 million tons per year) ends up in the ocean (Jambeck et al 2015). Plastic is a major environmental problem and research issue which has emerged over the last decade: the scale of the problem is huge and getting bigger. To date, focus has been on the biological interactions of this material, but there are significant gaps in our knowledge especially in the area of how plastic behaves as a component of the geological cycle. We do not know how plastics behave as ‘sedimentary’ particles, both macro and micro on land and in rivers, lakes and the sea, how they get deposited and their short and long term fate once deposited and buried. This research will find out through combing laboratory experiments with fieldwork collecting data on plastics. Laboratory experiments will be a significant focus of the project, and will be designed to model a suite of processes that have the potential to affect how plastic is transported and chemically and physically modified from its journey from land, through to seafloor and beyond. We will focus on just a few of the environmental compartments in which plastic is found.

What inspires you?

I have always been passionate about the natural world, since I was little. I cultivated my passion choosing a Scientific high school, and then a Bachelor in Natural Sciences and a Master in Marine Biology. Nature is so fascinating and yet so fragile, I think it is our duty to help preserve it, and I hope I will be able to contribute to its protection with my research. Nature is what keep us alive and I want to give back as much as I can, that is another reason why I also volunteered in numerous wildlife rescue centers.

Previous Activity

I have a BSc in Natural Sciences (University of Padova-Italy), MSc in Marine Biology |(University of Bologna-Italy), I did my Master thesis at the University of Cadiz(Spain), with a research project about the ratio of plastic to plankton in the Mediterranean Sea,. Then I won a Scholarship for a Post Lauream Traineeship in Iceland, I worked for the University of Reykjavik for a research project about photo identification of Humpback whales. I have then worked for a few months for the National research Center of Ancona (Italy), being a marine observer in Chioggia (Italy), collecting data for a research project about sharks and rays bycatch.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

I wanted to continue my studies, to keep learning and doing research, but at the same time to implement and expand my skills. I think that the research field is a very hard one, but it will be as much rewarding, if not even more. I also appreciate the opportunity to start teaching and approaching the academic world.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

CENTA studentships are dedicated to the “environmental” field, and it is clear that they care about it and I think we have the same principles. It offers a lot of opportunities to improve myself as a researcher through training, conferences and organized events, and I think that this wide range of training opportunities will make a huge difference in what kind of researcher I will become.

What are your future plans

I hope this amazing opportunity will help me to achieve my dream of staying inside the academia, to continue my research and hopefully teaching as well. Not only studying at the University of Leicester and with the CENTA support will give me the proper tools and training to develop my career, but it will also give me a very positive and open environment where I will be able to grow as a human being and researcher.