Professor Richard Thompson OBE, one of the world’s foremost experts on plastic pollution, has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Director of the University of Plymouth’s Marine Institute, and Head of its International Marine Litter Research Unit, Professor Thompson has been at the forefront of research in the field for more than two decades.
In being awarded a Fellowship, he joins an organisation whose past membership has included Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin and Stephen Hawking.
Professor Thompson published the first paper describing the decadal accumulation of microscopic fragments of plastic in the environment in 2004, naming these particles microplastics.
His team has since shown their global distribution, the potential for them to transfer from the gut to the circulatory system, and their ability to transport chemical contaminants.
This interdisciplinary work has been pivotal in the recognition of microplastics within policy documents such as the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, while his research has also guided UK Government policy on the release of microplastics from cosmetic products and textiles.
Professor Thompson has previously earned numerous accolades for his research, including the Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation in 2017 and an OBE for services to marine science in 2018.
His team also won the Natural Environment Research Council Impact Award in 2018 and, based on their work, the University of Plymouth received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2020.