Sampling Microplastics and Extremophile Organisms on Balloon Borne Payloads



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The Microplastics and Extremophiles team under the University of Houstonï¾’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Project intends to launch an instrument to collect microplastics and extremophiles within the stratosphere between 20 km and 30 km above Fairbanks, Alaska. The team is also planning on the use of several ground collecting instruments both in Fairbanks, and in Houston, Texas, that will measure microplastics by precipitation and deposition. The balloon platform was selected for its low speed, high altitude, and long flight time. This flight would ascend to about 30 km, and provide at least half an hour of measurement time within the desired altitude range. The instrument itself would consist of a lightweight, mylar bellows system, driven by pulleys. This design meets the high flow rate requirements to achieve the largest feasible sample, while maintaining the lightest weight. Raman spectroscopy will be utilized for analyzing microplastics while samples of extremophiles will be analyzed via PCR and 16S rRNA sequencing.