Environmental and Climate Research, Physical Science

Anne McNeil

Collegiate Professor


Carol A. Fierke Collegiate Professor of Chemistry; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry; Macromolecular Science and Engineering

Our research is aimed at addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges through chemical recycling or upcycling of waste plastics, developing methods to capture microplastics, measuring microplastics in the environment, and designing redox active molecules for energy storage applications.

What is your most interesting project?

Synthetic polymers have an enormous impact on our lives, yet the manner in which they are produced, used, and disposed of is unsustainable. Globally, we produce over 300 million tons of plastics per year, and a stunning >90% of plastics are made from petroleum feedstocks and only a scant 9% of plastics are recycled. Products that are recycled through current mechanical processes are frequently downgraded into lower-quality materials. We are currently exploring methods for “chemical recycling”. This approach includes developing depolymerization procedures and synthetic methods for repurposing degraded polymers into equal-quality or value-added materials.

Microplastics are everywhere due to the world’s prolific use of plastics in everyday items. Microplastics have been found in indoor and outdoor environments, in urban and rural areas, and even in the most remote locations on the planet. While most research has focused on microplastics in water and land environments, far fewer studies have examined microplastics in the atmosphere. Yet inhaling airborne microplastics is likely more harmful to human health than ingesting them through food and water. How many microplastics are found in our air? Where are the biggest emission sources? How are microplastics transported through the air? How does your race, income, and/or geographic location correlate with your exposure levels? Shouldn’t we know? This project is a collaboration with Profs. Andy Ault and Paul Zimmerman (in Chemistry), Ambuj Tewari (in Statistics), and Allison Steiner (in CLASP).

What makes you excited about your data science and AI research?

I am a newbie to data science and AI, and I am excited to learn more alongside my collaborators (Ambuj Tewari and Paul Zimmerman). In particular, I am excited by the opportunity to leverage the power of existing data to identify and create new pathways for chemical recycling of waste plastics.

Accomplishments and Awards