Monthly Archives: August 2019

Flying Toward Zero Food Waste

By: Isabel Bosch

Hi everyone! My name is Isabel Bosch and I am currently going into my sophomore year at USC. This summer, I had the privilege of working beside Diane Kim and Adriane Jones on the Black Soldier Fly Project for five weeks through USC SURF funding.

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This is me next to the food dehydrator where food waste is dried so that it can be fed to the fly larvae.

This sustainable initiative is amazing because it helps produce zero food waste. The recycling process begins by collecting food waste and running it through a dehydrator to remove all of the liquid. Then, the dried food waste is fed to fly larvae. These larvae can then be used as fertilizer and feed for livestock or fish, resulting in no food waste being brought to landfills.

After being introduced to the ins and outs of the project and visiting the larvae in action at the Fly House, I was ready to start my own independent research. I specifically focused on the transfer rate of bacteria during the recycling process. In order to do this, I worked with two common foodborne bacteria: E. coli and B. subtilis. In separate trials, I inoculated the food waste with the two bacteria and plated them during each stage of the recycling process to ensure that no bacteria was left after the dehydration process – critical so that the food waste is safe to be entered into the food cycle again.

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Me in the lab, holding plates full of bacteria!

This experience was extremely rewarding because I felt like I was contributing to the solution of a major environmental issue. The Black Soldier Fly project is successful at making the Wrigley Institute produce zero food waste and could potentially be used on Catalina Island and even the mainland to limit the large amount of carbon emissions created by burning food waste in landfills.

My schedule on the island varied day to day. But usually, I worked five days a week until dinner and then on weekends for a couple of hours. This was because I wanted to conduct as many trials as I could in five weeks. In total, I conducted three results, one of which was successful and could be used as data. Even though it was disappointing when my trials failed, I soon learned that this is what science is all about, especially microbiology! After figuring out what went wrong with the help of my mentors, I could repeat the trial and learn from my mistakes––sometimes it was as simple as my nutritious broth being contaminated.

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A picture of my two friends and fellow research students kayaking and snorkeling before dinner.

Aside from working, I also had some free time to explore the beautiful Catalina Island – there is so much to do outdoors! With my peers, among other things, I went on long hikes, swims in the marine protected area around Wrigley, cliff jumping, night snorkeling and did sunset yoga on the dock. Sometimes, I would even tag along some of my fellow researcher’s projects, giving me the chance to go inland and see some buffalo! However, my favorite excursion was definitely night snorkeling. One night, all of us students suited up in our wet suits, brought some flashlights and were able to see a plethora of different animals underwater such as lobster and sharks. Because many of my peers were divers, they knew a lot about the different marine animals, making it feel like a guided tour!

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The viewpoint from a hike I did with my family when they came to visit me!

Overall, I am so grateful to have spent my summer on Catalina Island. I learned so much from my mentors, peers, and visitors to the island. This experience only strengthened my love for the environment and opened my eyes to all of the sustainable initiatives occurring. Research is extremely important and I am so glad that I could become involved in it at Wrigley. Thank you to my mentors, Diane Kim and Adriane Jones, the Wrigley Institute, and the other students on the island for making my summer unforgettable!

Helping to Solve the Plastic Apocalypse

By: Juan Pablo de los Rios

Hello! My name is Juan Pablo (JP) de los Rios and I was honored to have been selected as a Norma and Jerol Sonosky Environmental Sustainability Fellow this past summer. I am a first–year chemistry graduate student working with Professor Megan Fieser. The Fieser group’s primary focus is solving what is a leading problem in environmental pollution: plastics. Consumers have abused the applications and use of plastic polymers to the point that plastics are projected to outweigh all fish in the sea by 2050! It is factual that our dependence on single–use plastics has far exceeded exploitation. Thus, we must propose alternative routes to diminish this exploitation and restore the environment’s stability.

These are some plastic pollutants collected by the Fieser Group at Hermosa Beach through the Heal the Bay: Adopt–A–Beach Initiative.

These are some plastic pollutants collected by the Fieser Group at Hermosa Beach through the Heal the Bay: Adopt–A–Beach Initiative.

One possible route is to create new polymers that can mimic the properties of those currently produced, while also being degradable. For example, we want to create degradable plastic products that can handle larger fluctuations in temperature or become more flexible and ductile without breaking. For these alternative plastics to be synthesized we must be able to effectively transform the smaller building blocks, or monomers, into the larger polymer chains. These transformations, or polymerizations, occur with the use of metal catalysts. This last summer I have been primarily focusing on synthesizing and characterizing a series of organic ligands that provide support and reactivity to a metal center in a catalyst (rare–earth metals, in particular). Furthermore, I began optimizing reactions to create the metal catalysts that will be capable of polymerizing the monomers into polymers.

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These are two organic ligands that I synthesized, characterized, and optimized! I plan on reacting these with lanthanide metals to create my catalysts and eventually begin polymerization reactions.

The second route to solving the plastic apocalypse is to efficiently recycle those that are sitting in landfills or floating in the oceans. The methods used presently to recycle plastics are far from effective. For example, only 2% of plastic water bottles will be recycled into a plastic water bottle again! Therefore, the Fieser group is currently focusing on developing metal catalysts that are capable of transforming, or depolymerizing, the larger polymer chains back into their respective monomers. The best part is that we plan on screening the organic ligands synthesized from the polymerization reactions, but with different metals (alkaline earth metals) to investigate their reactivity for depolymerization. Both of the discussed avenues will help create both environmentally sustainable and cost–effective processes that will reduce the global contamination of plastic materials.

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This is a normal day at the Fieser lab. Our air–sensitive chemistry requires proper use of both the Schlenk line (left) and glovebox (right).

It is truly difficult to define our science as strictly organic or inorganic. The Fieser group takes a multidisciplinary approach to create catalysts for our chemical transformations. Thus, members of the Fieser group experience and utilize the techniques and skills of organic and inorganic synthesis. These include isolation and purification methods of our ligands, as well as air–sensitive chemistry in the glovebox and Schlenk line when synthesizing metal complexes.

The Fieser group is a brand–new research group currently situated at the Loker Hydrocarbon Institute but soon moving to our new space in Seeley G. Mudd Building. We are more than excited for our research endeavors and the possible collaborations and contributions that we will bring to USC! Please stay updated with our group website:

Finally, I would like to acknowledge and sincerely thank Norma and Jerol Sonosky for their generous support in my sustainable research. I have been capable of focusing my time and attention into progressing these alternative avenues that will, hopefully, lead us into a cleaner future. Thank you for reading!