Fourth-year Bachelor of Science student Danielle Molenaar with one of the silicone wristbands she used to study flame retardants and their link to electronics use.

Student research adventures

November 28, 2019 | Society, Science

Danielle Molenaar knew that silicone wristbands were a useful tool in studying environmental contaminants, but she just didn’t realize exactly how effective the ubiquitous circles of silicone would be at attracting gunk until she and her faculty supervisor, Dr. Matthew Ross, designed a study to see if the presence of organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs) could be linked to electronics use.

Title of work: Silicone Wristbands as Personal Passive Samplers for Exposure to Organophosphate Flame Retardants: The Effect of Electronic Use on Exposure

About the research

Danielle asked 15 participants in her independent study to wear what began as clean silicone wristbands for a week at a time and complete a questionnaire about how much time they spent indoors, the furniture they were on or near and their weekly electronics use (flame retardants are used extensively on furniture and electronics to meet fire resistance standards).

The fourth-year Bachelor of Science student then scraped off what was collected on the wristbands and ran it through the Department of Physical Sciences’ gas chromatography-mass spectrometer. It was at that point, she needed to make a few adjustments.

“We actually gunked up the machine pretty badly,” she says. “So we had to run what we extracted through different solutions to clean the samples and isolate the specific compounds we were looking for.”

Once they perfected the process, Danielle ran all the samples through the spectrometer and found flame retardants on every single wristband. While three of the 15 had very high concentrations, Danielle says she’s not sure if her data will be able to definitively tie those numbers to electronics use. But even if her hypothesis doesn’t prove true, Danielle says the experience was definitely worthwhile.

“Designing the project on my own with help from Matt was really useful, especially as I go into grad school next year,” she says.

What's next?

Danielle presented her work at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North America’s annual meeting in Toronto this month, and is writing a manuscript on the research to submit for publication.


Share your work

There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you’re proud of, including MacEwan’s Student Research Day (where Danielle presented her research) and a range of on-campus student conferences and forums.

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