Graduate Paves Way for Sustainable Future

Chemistry student's research sheds light on environmental pollutants

Caitlyn Auguste, a graduating senior receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences, forged a path as a researcher that perfectly complemented her career goals. Looking toward a more sustainable future for the cosmetics industry, which is responsible for a large quantity of microplastic pollutants, she has spent the last year working to support the research of Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, professor of chemistry, around microplastics in the highly urbanized Hudson-Raritan estuary. In 2022, Arbuckle-Keil’s research team conducted a field survey of the river and found excessive amounts of microplastics. Since coming on board the research team later that year, Auguste has researched potential solutions to this growing problem.

“I eventually want to work in the cosmetics industry, and I know polymers are involved in the manufacturing process, so I was hoping for an opportunity to do research that would help me reach that goal," Auguste said. After reading about Arbuckle-Keil's research and talking with her at an event held during Rutgers–Camden's Research Week, she took a position in Arbuckle-Keil's lab.

Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, professor of chemistry

Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, professor of chemistry

To further the work done in the previous field study, Auguste has spent the last year working in Arbuckle-Keil’s laboratory to identify the composition of the plastics in the samples Arbuckle-Keil’s team had previously collected. This is the first step toward recognizing which plastics may be associated with a specific source, which can then guide possible mitigation strategies.

Arial view of the Hudson River near New York City

Arial view of the Hudson River near New York City

Using a particular type of spectrometer that introduces infrared light at an angle, Auguste analyzed the samples and identified the polymetric composition of each microplastic. Arbuckle-Keil noted that the work required a high degree of precision and attention to even the smallest detail.

“The particles are extremely small, so they must be carefully picked up with tweezers and placed on the instrument to obtain the spectrum, which can be compared with spectra of known polymers, commonly known as plastics,” Arbuckle-Keil said. “Additionally, we keep the particles in the event we want to reanalyze them, so the student has to carefully pick up the particle again and place it in another container for storage.”

Auguste presented her findings in April 2023 at the annual spring meeting of the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium, a program supported by NASA that seeks to support STEM students in higher education. As Auguste prepares for graduation, she looks to the future and hopes to continue her education and gain professional experience.

"I plan to pursue my master's, but I want to work professionally for a while after I graduate to continue to learn and gain practical experience in a lab setting,” Auguste said. She knows that her time at Rutgers–Camden has prepared her for whatever comes next. 

“My time at Rutgers–Camden has opened doors for me and provided incredible opportunities, like my work with Dr. Arbuckle-Keil, that I will be able to build on as I continue my career in chemistry," Auguste said. "I am excited for what comes next.”

Creative Design: Douglas Shelton

Connect with Us

LinkedIn Icon Instagram Icon Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Youtube Icon Website Icon