Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory

Lab Description

The Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Research Team at the Desert Research Institute applies chemical techniques to study human – environment interactions. We conduct field and laboratory studies of surface water, groundwater, drinking water, and seasonal snow. We also study historical and recent wildfires through the analysis of lake sediments and field-based studies. We are dedicated to developing novel methodologies that support more efficient sample collection, analysis, and sample and data standardization.

The Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Research Team is composed of Research Professors, Scientists, and Graduate/Undergraduate students. We welcome diverse collaborations with research and university faculty, consultants, government agencies, non-profits, and beyond. We collaborate on proposals, contribute to grant writing, consult on study design, and conduct analyses. We also conduct training for students, post docs, and visiting researchers.

Current Research and Community Engagement Activities:

  • Assessing Microplastic Pollution in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Sierra Nevada Snow and Water. Lake Tahoe is a naturally formed, alpine lake that is protected by numerous state and local laws with the intent to preserve lake clarity, ecosystem health, and drinking water quality. We are conducting a watershed scale assessment of microplastic pollution in Lake Tahoe watershed and surrounding Sierra Nevada snow and water. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.
  • Developing Citizen Science Programs that Engage the Public in Microplastic Research and Mitigation Efforts. Citizen Science programs developed in conjunction with the League to Save Lake Tahoe, are engaging the community in microplastic research, education, and mitigation. These programs include citizen collected water samples to support microplastic monitoring efforts; and engaging the community to test the efficacy of microplastic collection. Funding is provided by the DRI Foundation.
  • Sampling and Identifying Microplastic Pollution Our team is developing methodologies that will improve on existing approaches by increasing the ease of sample collection and analysis, advancing data quality, and establishing standardization guidelines to facilitate microplastic pollution comparisons between studies. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation. Link to publication.
  • Microplastic contamination of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. Our team is working with Wonders of the Mekong to understand the impact plastic pollution is having on the water quality of two important rivers in Cambodia. Rachel in Cambodia
  • Microplastics and PFAS in Hot Springs. In partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, we are studying microplastic and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in thermal springs in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada to inform management decisions related to the recreational use of the springs.
  • Are Dryers a Source of Microplastics? Our team is working with collaborators to understand if clothes dryers emit microplastics in the environment. We connected with citizen scientists in the region to study this. This work was funded by REI Co-op.
  • Mountain Rain or Snow. This project is funded by NASA and uses citizen science to study the phase of precipitation. To learn more about this project, visit https://rainorsnow.org/home!
  • Metal Contamination in Private Wells. Are private drinking water wells in Nevada contaminated with metals? Our team is working with homeowners around Nevada to understand potential exposure to metals. This work is funded by the NIH. wellwater study

Our Team

Monica Arienzo, PhD (she/her)

Monica Arienzo 

Monica Arienzo is an Assistant Research Professor in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute. After years of studying caves in the Bahamas and ice cores from Antarctica, now she leads the Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Research Team. Her interests are developing novel chemical tools to answer important environmental questions. When she’s not in the lab, you can find her hiking, running, snowboarding, or playing ultimate Frisbee. DRI personnel page and Google scholar link.

(775) 673-7693


Daniel Saftner, M.Sc. (he/him)

Daniel Saftner

Daniel Saftner is an Assistant Research Hydrogeologist in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute. His research focuses on developing hydrologic tools, tests, and models that help rural communities prepare for and respond to issues surrounding water resources sustainability and environmental health. Dan’s experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Fulbrighter in Africa continue to inspire him to use his background in hydrogeology to serve disadvantaged populations. Dan enjoys travel, live music, skiing, softball, and camping in the desert with his partner and pup.

(775) 673-7422


Meghan Collins, M.Sc. (she/her)

Meghan Collins

Meghan Collins is an Assistant Research Scientist, Environmental Science and Education Program Manager. She works to expand experiential learning and career-based STEM opportunities and translate the valuable results of DRI science to our communities.



Graduate Students:

Rachel Kozloski

Rachel Kozloski

Rachel Kozloski is a PhD student in UNR’s Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences. Prior to beginning her PhD, Rachel worked in the private and government sectors as a soil scientist and environmental analyst. Her research focuses on microplastics in urban runoff and microplastic movement in connected surface and groundwater systems. When she is not conducting lab analyses or doing fieldwork she is equally happy exploring wild places or curled up with her dogs and a good book.

Kerri Minatre, M.Sc.

Kerri Minatre is a PhD student in UNR’s Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program.  Her research focuses on using charcoal properties to infer properties of fire and associated ecological effects on ecosystems. She uses her background in archaeology, soil sciences, and fire ecology to inform her work. When she is not conducting lab analyses or doing fieldwork she enjoys trail running with her cattle dogs, camping, and working on her small urban farm.

Undergraduate Students:

Luisa Ortega

Luisa Ortega

Luisa is an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada Reno and is originally from Reno, NV.  She is working to complete her B.S. degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Ecological Conservation and Restoration. Her current research in the Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory explores using citizen scientists to collect samples for microplastic monitoring. When she is not conducting lab analyses she enjoys spending time at the lake, taking road-trips, baking, and painting.

Erika Robtoy

Erika Robtoy

Erika Robtoy is an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada Reno and is originally from Sparks, NV. She is working to complete her B.S. degree in Hydrogeology. Her current research in the Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory explores metal contamination in private drinking water wells in Nevada. When she is not conducting lab analyses she enjoys trail running, rock climbing, and skiing.


Julia Davidson

Julia is an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada Reno. She completed her B.S. degrees in Chemistry and Education. In the Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory, she explored plastic pollution in Lake Tahoe, in collaboration with Clean Up the Lake.


The DRI Microplastics and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory is equipped to apply chemical approaches in a range of complex environmental samples. Our facilities include three main rooms: a HEPA filtered laboratory for sample preparation, a wet chemistry laboratory with fume hood, and a student workstation and sample and field equipment storage. We also work in the Micro Analysis & Visualization Lab (MAVL), an Institute-wide facility for microscopic analysis and imaging services.

Instrumentation includes:

  • ThermoFisher Nicolet iN10 MX Infrared Microscope (or micro-FTIR). The micro-FTIR instrument is used to study plastic particles, charcoal, and beyond. This instrument was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Kerri FTIR

  • Various dissecting microscopes for imaging samples.
  • Computers for image analysis and image processing.


We accept samples for FTIR analysis for a fee. To date, we have conducted a suite of analyses for polymer scientists and biologists in the regions. Please email Monica Arienzo with details about the samples to be analyzed to discuss.


We also accept samples for the isolation and analysis of microplastics for a fee. We can work with you to design a sampling and sample preparation protocol to meet your study goals. Please email Monica Arienzo directly to learn more.

Actions you can take

Exploring Microplastics At Home!

This is an at home activity to explore the world of plastics. Download a PDF of this activity to print at home.

Actions you can take

Our team has talked to many community members since launching our research, and the most common question we get is: “So what can I do about the microplastics problem?”. We created a list of seven evidence-based solutions that you can easily do to make an impact.

Don’t forget to check out the “Myths about Microplastics” that illuminate some of the common misconceptions related to microplastics.


Rachel in cambodia

Photo Credit: Wonders of the Mekong


The Microplastics Lab at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) is always looking for talented and motivated students. Students that work in our group generally have interests in geochemistry, analytical laboratory and field work, water quality, and/or human-environment interaction. Many of the students in the Microplastics Lab enroll in the University of Nevada Reno Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences (https://www.unr.edu/hydrologic-sciences) or the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology program (https://www.unr.edu/eecb). If you’re interested in joining us for graduate school, please check out the lab website and email Monica Arienzo.

Dan and team in Cambodia 

Learn More 

DRI Blog: Problem Plastics

Read about and watch the DRI “Behind the Science” story about the microplastics research team sampling at Lake Tahoe.

News Story: Microplastics found in Lake Tahoe for the First Time

Read about DRI’s discovery of microplastics in the waters of Lake Tahoe in the LA Times. 

Tip Sheet: Microplastics Pollution Research in the Sierra Nevada

Download DRI’s Microplastic Research Media Tip Sheet for the AGU 2019 Fall Meeting.


Monica Arienzo, Ph.D.
Lab Director

Meghan Collins, M.Sc.
Education Program Manager


Desert Research Institute
2215 Raggio Parkway
Reno, NV 89512


Hydrologic Sciences