University of Bayreuth, Presse release No. 176/2022 - 20 October 2022
Detecting microplastics in water: graduate of the University of Bayreuth receives VDE prize for innovative measurement method
Jens Pfeiffer M.Sc., graduate of the master's programme "Mechanical Engineering" at the University of Bayreuth, has been awarded the "Absolventen-Preis 2022 des VDE Nordbayern" by the Association of Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE). A method he has developed makes it possible for the first time to identify microplastic particles in water with high precision and will potentially be able to make an important contribution to ecological research and environmental protection. The award will be presented on 22 October 2022, during this year's Graduate Day of the Faculty of Engineering on the campus of the University of Bayreuth.
Electrical impedance spectroscopy is a commonly used technique in the natural sciences and engineering that is applied, among other things, to analyzing mixtures of different substances. In his award-winning master's thesis, Jens Pfeiffer found that the method is fundamentally suitable for reliably detecting the presence of microplastics in water. Following on from this, he developed an online impedance sensor and integrated it into a self-designed water circuit operated by a pump. In this, particles of different sizes belonging to different types of plastic moved rapidly. As soon as they passed the sensor's detection range, it delivered a large amount of measurement data, which Pfeiffer analyzed using artificial intelligence tools and methods. In this way, he was able to obtain precise information about the size and number of microplastic particles, as well as the type of plastic in question. In some cases, it was even possible to learn more about the shape of the tiny particles.
"The award-winning master's thesis by Jens Pfeiffer is characterized by great originality and an impressive quality and breadth of content. The research results obtained are very promising: they have the potential to be further developed into an automated measurement procedure that can be used to analyze water samples containing microplastics - for example, from rivers and lakes - directly on site," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Fischerauer, holder of the Chair of Measurement and Control Systems, where the master's thesis was written with significant guidance from Luca Bifano, M Sc. who is pursuing his doctorate at the chair.
To further develop the measurement method with the goal of industrial applicability, Jens Pfeiffer founded the startup MYTRA together with Valentin Meiler M.Sc. who completed an engineering master's degree at the same time as him at the University of Bayreuth. With the support of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Bayreuth, the two graduates succeeded in acquiring a start-up grant from the EXIST funding programme of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection. Prof. Fischerauer's Chair of Measurement and Control Systems is providing them with laboratory space for the research and development work currently underway.