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Dr. Heather A. Leslie is a leading expert in international (micro)plastics research with an interest in studying how marine litter, plastics and industrial chemicals can impact our ecosystems, health and society and what can be done about it. At the E&H laboratory, Dr. Leslie uses her background in ecotoxicology and environmental analytical chemistry to make the invisible visible, developing analytical techniques that enable the detection and quantification of microplastics, chemical additives in plastic and other industrial chemicals (e.g. persistent organic pollutants) in environmental matrices such as: birds, invertebrates, fish, food chains, sediment, canals, rivers, sea water, harbours, sewage treatment plants, air, products (e.g. cosmetics, plastic consumer goods) and product waste streams and in humans. Tracing the toxic micro and macromolecular debris of our contemporary consumer society through ecoystems, product systems and our own bodies and increasing our understanding of the fate, distribution and effects provides input to multiple users from research, policy, civil society and industry. She often works together in interdisciplinary teams, not only with chemists and ecotoxciologists but also governance experts, economists, humanities scholars, oceanographers, engineers, modellers, ecologists, industrial partners, polymer chemists, designers and artists, civil society et al.

At the VU since 2006, she’s responsible for supervising graduate students and technicians, teaching and acquiring research grants from UN, European Commission, Dutch ministries, the Dutch Research Council (NWO), research institutions, the chemical, oil and gas and water sectors and NGOs. She coordinated the first European FP7 research project on marine litter: the interdisciplinary CleanSea project. She co-chaired WG40 of the UN GESAMP Joint Group of Experts for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution, co-writing the first global assessment report in 2015. She is a (past) member of EU Technical Subgroup Marine Litter, Chemical Monitoring Activity, SETAC, the Dutch Toxicological Society and recently contributed to the T20 think tank for the G7.

Dr. Leslie is a regular invited (keynote) speaker at events of e.g. European Parliament, DG ENV, DG RTD and European Chemicals Agency, JPI Oceans, scientific conferences, European Space Agency, NGOs, industry events e.g. VNO-NCW, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Nemo Science Museum, Dutch government stakeholder meetings etc. She appears regularly in the printed and broadcast media as well as in documentaries and television programmes in the Netherlands and abroad, such as ARTE, BBC Radio 4, NOS Journaal, Danish Broadcasting Corporation, NRC, Volkskrant, AD, het Parool, Trouw, BNR Radio, RTL etc. She wrote and produced the CleanSea documentary film which premiered at the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam (2015). Heather Leslie has guest lectured in the Industrial Design graduate programme at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. Together with artist and collaborator Cheng Guo, she won the BioArtDesign Award (2017) for a joint project at the interface of design, art and environmental science.


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