The Plastic Crisis - Grand Challenges Seminar Series

This May, students from Oxford’s Doctoral Training Centre will present a seminar on one of the most pressing challenges facing modern science: the plastic crisis. Due to its robust structure, slow degradation and increasing production rates, plastic waste accumulation now poses a number of risks to animal, human and environmental health. Compounding this is the fact that recycling efforts have so far proven ineffective: of the 8.3 billion metric tons produced since 1907, 6.3 million metric tons have remained as plastic. There is therefore a clear need to develop new technologies and techniques to mitigate this rising global issue. As part of an annual series themed around the great research problems of our time, this seminar will bring together four expert speakers at the forefront of plastic remediation research. Each will provide insight into their pioneering work and will illuminate how the scientific community is addressing the plastic crisis. Hosted at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and followed by a catered reception for all attendees, this seminar promises to be an exciting opportunity to explore how science is engaging with one of its Grand Challenges.

Meet the speakers

Prof Anthony Ryan (OBE)

As a leading expert in polymer science and sustainability, Professor Anthony Ryan has conducted extensive research on the environmental impact of plastic waste and the development of sustainable solutions to address the plastic crisis. His research focuses on understanding the chemical and physical properties of different types of plastics, as well as their breakdown and degradation in the environment. Professor Ryan’s research also involves the investigation of the potential for recycling and upcycling plastic waste, as well as the use of alternative materials and technologies to reduce our dependence on plastic. His work has contributed significantly to the development of policies and strategies aimed at reducing plastic waste and promoting a more sustainable future.

Prof Andy Pickford

Professor Andrew Pickford's research is centred around the relationship between the structure, flexibility, and function of enzymes that can break down natural and synthetic polymers like plastics and collagen. He is specifically interested in engineering enzymes that can efficiently break down plastics, the durability of these enzymes under stress, as well as biophysically analyzing the interactions between enzymes and substrates. Additionally, Professor Pickford seeks to enhance the efficiency of enzyme production in bacteria and yeast.

Dr Jose Jimenez

Dr. Jose Jiménez is a molecular biologist, with a specific interest in environmental applications of synthetic biology for the valorisation (reuse/recycling) of waste. After earning his Ph.D. in environmental microbiology, he moved into systems and synthetic biology of bacteria in postdoctoral stays at the National Center for Biotechnology (CSIC; Spain), Harvard University (USA) as a Fellow for the Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology program and the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT (USA). Jose was appointed as Lecturer in Synthetic Biology in 2014 at the University of Surrey and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018. He joined the Dpt. of Life Sciences at Imperial College London in 2020. Dr Jiménez has also been the coordinator of the project ‘Microbial Integration of Plastics in the Circular Economy (MIPLACE)’.

Dr Florence Huynh

Dr Florence Huynh is an enthusiastic sustainability researcher for Polymateria, a dominant company in the field of bioplastic research which focuses on bioplastic development to upscale and replace current crude-oil plastics. Born in France, Dr Huynh earned her PhD in chemistry from Cardiff University, working on enzymes for novel natural product synthesis. She joined Polymateria in 2020 as a research innovations manager and has recently been appointed Vice President of the Innovation department, leading the research, development and testing of the next generation of biodegradable polyolefins products. Her current research interests include carbon sequestration of biodegradable materials, biodegradation and ecotoxicity of new materials, microplastic formation and fate in the environment.