Researchers use AI to improve microplastic identification

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

An interdisciplinary research team from the University of Waterloo is using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify microplastics faster and more accurately than ever before.

Led by Dr. Wayne Parker, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, the research team’s advanced imaging identification system could help wastewater treatment plants and food production industries make informed decisions to mitigate the potential impact of microplastics on the environment and human health.

The challenge is that microplastics come in wide varieties due to the presence of manufacturing additives and fillers that can blur their identification. This makes identifying microplastics from organic material, as well as the different types of microplastics, often difficult. Human intervention is usually required to dig out subtle patterns and cues, which is slow and prone to error.

Parker approached Dr. Alexander Wong, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Systems Design Engineering and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Medical Imaging for assistance. With his help, the team developed an AI tool called PlasticNet that enables researchers to rapidly analyze large numbers of particles approximately 50 per cent faster than prior methods and with 20 per cent more accuracy.

The tool is the latest sustainable technology designed by Waterloo researchers to protect our environment and engage in research that will contribute to a sustainable future.

Go to Using AI to find microplastics for the full story.