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Exploration of Contact Lenses' Environmental Impact

  • Contact Lens Partnership with Haslingden High School.jpg

Students from the Boys’ Division of Bolton School are working with Sixth Form students from Haslingden High School and optometrist Professor Phil Morgan from the University of Manchester to find out how long contact lens materials last in the environment. Professor Morgan is a world leading expert in the area of contact lens materials. Following a chance conversation over Twitter, Professor Morgan and Dr Turner generated a research question. The project is funded by a Royal Society partnership grant, an established scheme to help school students work with researchers and which also provides a calendar of opportunities for communicating the results.

Plastics in the environment has been a hot topic since it first entered the public consciousness following David Attenborough’s hit documentary Blue Planet. There has been a lot of work in the area of single-use plastics in the food industry for example. Single-use plastics are ubiquitous in healthcare as they offer a more hygienic alternative to instruments and devices that need sterilising between uses. This is one area where it is not easy to make changes to more sustainable materials. Contact lenses are one area where single-use is the most hygienic option and while there has been evaluation carried out on the packaging of disposable contact lenses, very little is known about the materials themselves.

Boys from Year 8 and 9 are focusing on formulating mixtures that could be used to breakdown the polymers in contact lenses. The older students at Bolton School and Haslingden High School will be looking at using spectroscopic techniques to find out how the formulations are affecting the bonds in the polymers. Other research will look at what would happen if a contact lens was flushed down the toilet and explore the behaviour of disposable contact lens users when they throw lenses away.

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