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The Center for Marine Debris Research

A Strategically Located Partnership

Logo for the Hawaii Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research
Credit: HPU

The Center for Marine Debris Research (CMDR) was established in 2019 as a joint institute between NIST’s Biochemical and Exposure Sciences Group in the Chemical Sciences Division and Hawai`i Pacific University (HPU) to help address the urgent need to understand and solve the global marine plastic pollution problem. CMDR was strategically located in Hawai`i, because the Hawaiian archipelago experiences some of the greatest marine plastic pollution on earth (Brignac et al., 2019; Royer et al., 2023).


CMDR’s mission leverages the strengths of both partners: to develop and apply optimal methods to measure the quantities, sources, transport, fate, impacts and reuse of plastic pollution in the ocean. NIST scientists at CMDR focus on the development of chemical methods and standards to advance plastic pollution research and transfer that technology to HPU’s faculty, staff and students who apply the methods to real-world samples and questions. The partnership is successful in training future scientists and an educated workforce in the environmental impacts of plastic pollution.

Learn more about the NIST efforts towards Plastic Pollution Metrology

Aerial photo of the Hawaii Pacific University’s Makapuu Campus in Waimanalo, Hawaii on the Island of Oahu, where CMDR is located.
CMDR is located at the Hawaii Pacific University’s Makapuu Campus in Waimanalo, Hawaii on the Island of Oahu.
Credit: courtesy of HPU
Photo of the building that houses CMDR in Hawaii.
Center for Marine Debris Research in Oahu, Hawaii.
Credit: Jennifer Lynch (NIST)

Facility and Capabilities

CMDR consists of three 500 sq. ft. laboratories and a 115 sq. ft. freezer room on HPU's Makapu`u campus and a >2000 sq. ft. warehouse called the “Net Shed” on HPU’s Hawaii Loa campus, both on the island of O`ahu. The NIST scientists, university faculty, staff and students work together on multi-disciplinary projects that are of national priority, such as microfiber detection in the environment, microplastic leaching from road pavements containing recycled plastics, and long-term monitoring of plastic ingestion by protected marine species. The facility aims to serve as an international magnet for cutting-edge plastic pollution research.

Photo of one bench that has chemistry instrumentation at CMDR in Hawaii for plastic pollution quantification and characterization.
Polymer identification equipment at the Center for Marine Debris Research.
Credit: Katherine Shaw (NIST)

*NIST owned

Chemical Instrumentation available at CMDR includes the trifecta of instruments, rarely found together anywhere else, for quantifying and characterizing microplastics:

  • Frontier-Agilent Pyrolysis-GC/MS*
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific iN10MX microscope FTIR
  • Renishaw Raman imaging microscope.

Additional equipment useful in polymer identification of marine debris includes:

  • Two Thermo Fisher Scientific iS5 FTIRs
  • TA Instruments Differential Scanning Calorimeter
  • Heat press*

Additional equipment needed for quantifying and characterizing plastic additive chemicals includes:

  • Agilent GC/MS with PTV inlet*
  • Analytical balances*
  • CEM open-focused microwave extractor
  • Turbovap solvent evaporator*

Additional equipment required to reduce background contamination of microplastics includes:

  • MilliQ water purification system*
  • Muffle furnace*
  • Two Laminar flow hoods

Additional equipment needed for sample storage and preparation includes:

  • -20°C and two liquid nitrogen freezers*
  • -80°C freezer
  • Freeze drier*


For a virtual tour, watch here.

For more information, visit HPU’s CMDR website.

Created November 13, 2023, Updated November 30, 2023