University of Plymouth professor is named global influencer alongside Michael J Fox

A Plymouth University professor has today been named among the individuals who have done the most to influence global health. Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Head of the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, has appeared among the names on the the inaugural TIME100 Health list.

Almost 20 years to the day since he first coined the term ‘microplastics’ to describe the microscopic particles littering our ocean, Professor Thompson has been selected by TIME magazine to feature on the list, which honours the 100 most influential individuals leading change in health.

The list spotlights doctors, scientists, business leaders, advocates, and more who its editors say are not just at the cutting edge of the health industry but are sharpening it themselves. Professor Thompson is named as a ‘microplastic revolutionary’ in the ‘catalyst’ category, alongside actor and Parkinson’s campaigner Michael J Fox. The list also features luminaries such as French President Emmanuel Macron and former US President Jimmy Carter.

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Speaking of his inclusion in TIME100 Health, Professor Thompson, who is also Director of the University’s Marine Institute – said: “It is incredibly humbling to be included on this list, and to be named among people whose work is having a profound influence on global health. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of the many challenges threatening the health of our planet and everything living on it. Plastic pollution is unquestionably among them, and our work over more than two decades has demonstrated the scale of the issue, and the potential harm it can cause. The current negotiations towards a Global Plastics Treaty are critical in addressing that, and they represent a generational opportunity to deliver a worldwide consensus that results in meaningful action.”

Sam Jacobs, Editor-in-Chief at TIME, explains how the list was compiled: “With guidance from Dr. David Agus and Arianna Huffington, our team of health correspondents and editors, led by Emma Barker and Mandy Oaklander, spent months consulting sources and experts around the world to select the 100 individuals who are most influential in the world of health right now.

“The result is the TIME100 Health, a community of leaders from across industries—scientists, doctors, advocates, educators, and policy-makers, among others—dedicated to creating tangible, credible change for a healthier population. Together, they are a reminder that many things are going right, and their work is enough to inspire the belief that the world of health is in the middle of a golden age of accomplishment and transformation.”

Professor Thompson’s first publication exploring the field of marine litter came on May 7, 2004 with a seminal paper in the journal Science. Since then, he has worked with colleagues across the University and globally on pioneering studies that have highlighted the presence of microplastics everywhere from our rivers and coastlines to the deepest ocean, and from polar regions to the highest mountains on the planet.

His current projects include work to explore the impact of tyre particle pollution, and the performance of plastic alternatives, as well as assessments of the effects of microplastics on both humans and wildlife. This work has directly influenced global policies, including the UK ban on microbeads in cosmetic, and he is currently a co-coordinator of the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty and providing scientific evidence to world leaders negotiating the emerging global legislation.

Professor Thompson has won significant recognition for his work, being made an OBE in 2017 for his services to marine science among various other accolades. In recent years, that has included being part of a collaboration awarded the NERC Impact prize in 2018, the Volvo Environment Prize 2022, and the 2023 Blue Planet Prize.