Weiss Research Award: Detecting airborne microplastics


The Weiss Award, Austria's largest privately financed research award in the field of meteorology, goes to Bernadett Weinzierl from the University of Vienna. Administered by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the award of around €400,000 from the Weiss Science Foundation will enable physicist Bernadett Weinzierl to better detect and research microplastics in the atmosphere.

The earth's ecosystem is heavily contaminated with microplastics. By now, it is common knowledge that plastic particles in rivers and oceans pose a danger to humans and the environment. Recently, microplastics have also been discovered in the atmosphere, but there is currently very little data on the level of air pollution caused by microplastics. Research into microplastics in the atmosphere is still in a very early stage. For example, we don’t have any methods to detect airborne microplastic particles that are smaller than 10 µm, which can also be transported over long distances in the atmosphere.

Bernadett Weinzierl’s research focuses on the (further) development of innovative analysis and measurement methods for detecting these airborne microplastics. The aim of her research is to use new analytical methods in laboratory and field experiments to detect and assess the environmental impact of plastic particles in the atmosphere. Intensive measurement phases are planned in Vienna at the University of Vienna’s new aerosol observatory, at the Sonnblick Observatory in the Hohe Tauern mountains, and during additional measurement expeditions in and around Vienna. With her project “PlasticSphere,” the aerosol and environmental physicist intends to take the initial steps needed to quantify the concentrations and properties of microplastics in the atmosphere so that she can systematically assess their sources, transport, and distribution.

“We can’t yet estimate the level of microplastic contamination in our atmosphere, making it high time to close these knowledge gaps. I’m delighted that with the support of the Weiss Science Foundation, my team and I will be able to contribute to gaining new insights for a sustainable future," said Bernadett Weinzierl at the award ceremony.

“On behalf of the Weiss Science Foundation, please allow me to congratulate you, Dr. Bernadett Weinzierl, on receiving the 9th Weiss Award, in the field of meteorology again this year. Dr. Gottfried Weiss was always very concerned about improving our planet’s climate. This was a topic he championed vigorously during his time as a department director of the WMO, earning him great respect. My board colleague Dr. Putz and I are therefore particularly pleased to see how his work and his many years of effort are now being carried on successfully by the Foundation even after his death,” says Rudolf Bauer, Chairman of the Dr. Gottfried and Dr. Vera Weiss Science Foundation.

“We are very happy for Bernadett Weinzierl about this great achievement. Her research on microplastics in the atmosphere is a key contribution to planetary health. The highly endowed Weiss Award provides major visibility for this research and is an important signal for Austria as a research location, which will hopefully benefit even more from private funding in the future,” congratulates Sebastian Schütze, Rector of the University of Vienna, on the Gottfried and Vera Weiss Award.

“The funding of science and research through private partners, such as the Weiss Science Foundation or the alpha+ Foundation of the FWF, is an enormously important step towards establishing and expanding a culture of philanthropy in Austria,” said President Christof Gattringer in his address. I would like to thank the Weiss Science Foundation for its confidence in the FWF, and wish the award winner Bernadett Weinzierl every success in her exciting project,” Gattringer concluded.

Philanthropy for science and research

The increasing charitable commitment of private individuals and organizations makes it possible to support ever more excellent researchers. Currently, private donations allow the FWF to finance research projects worth €1.5 million each year. In addition, the FWF was the first public research funding agency in Europe to establish a nonprofit foundation to provide Austria's researchers with more opportunities in basic research through private grants.

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Get in touch for an initial conversation. We look forward to meeting you and introducing all of the available options (for more information, please see: www.alphaplusstiftung.at).

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Bernadett Weinzierl (University of Vienna) – Weiss Prize winner – aims to better detect and study microplastics in the atmosphere. (© FWF/Daniel Novotny)

From left to right: Ursula Jakubek (FWF Executive Vice-President), Robin Golser (Dean of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna), Bernadett Weinzierl (Weiss Prize winner), Christof Gattringer (FWF President), Rudolf Bauer und Waltraud Bauer (Dr. Gottfried und Dr. Vera Weiss Science Foundation). (© FWF/Daniel Novotny)