Two Strathclyders named amongst Wired Magazine’s 25 global innovators

Dr Steve and Dr Deonie Allen. Courtesy: Wired Magazine

Two University of Strathclyde researchers have been named among Wired magazine’s list of 25 global innovators helping to ‘point the way to a safer future’.

Husband and wife Dr Steve Allen and Dr Deonie Allen from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering have been named in the Wired25 list of ‘people who are making things better’ through their research into microplastics pollution.

Others featured on the list include former US Vice-President Al Gore and Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading figure in the US’s fight against COVID-19.

The Allens will join Wired’s science writer, Matt Simon for a virtual conversation in a live webinar on 23 September in a session entitled Building Resilience: Communities, Systems, the Planet that will features others on the list.

Airborne microplastics

The couple’s research has had global impact, with one study revealing that secluded regions in the Pyrenees mountains – previously considered pristine wilderness – is actually covered in microplastics transported through the air. The paper, published in May 2019, has already been cited 200 times.

Another study found evidence of thousands of tonnes of microplastic pollution within the sea being deposited on land through the action of sea spray. The potential health effects of these airborne microplastics are currently unknown.

Steve, who recently completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor Vernon Phoenix and who now lectures within the Department, said: “It was very much a surprise to be featured in this list. We have done quite a bit of media work with Wired but we didn’t expect this.”

Deonie, a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow, said: “It’s a privilege to be included on this list. Things like this are awesome because it makes this issue of microplastics real for the everyday person and gets them interested in what they can do to help.”

The couple, who are from Australia, have lived aboard a yacht and travelled all over the world for the last 20 years and have witnessed the increase in marine plastic pollution.

Deonie said: “The furthest out we saw plastic was 1,500 miles from the Galapagos Islands, when we sailed from the US to Australia. It wasn’t plastic that had fallen off ships, but stuff that shouldn’t have been there.

We’re always going to need some plastics but the way we use it needs to change. Reducing our reliance of single-use plastic is something we can all do that can make a difference.”

Steve said: “About 8.4 billion tonnes of plastic has been manufactured, with half of that produced in last 18 years. Our plastic use is increasing. We’re not saying people have to go back to the dark ages, we just need to dial it back to a time when fruit and vegetables were not wrapped in plastic on a plastic tray. We need to reduce it while we figure out how dangerous it is.”

The Wired25 virtual conversation is free and open to everyone and anyone interested in listening live can register on the Wired25 website.