Professor Richard Thompson
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Head of the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, has today been named among the individuals who have most influenced global health in the past year.
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 in its inaugural list.
It honours the 100 most influential individuals leading change in health, spotlighting 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.

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.

Richard Thompson OBE FRSRichard Thompson OBE FRS
Director of the Marine Institute

Professor Thompson’s first publication exploring the field of marine litter came on May 7, 2004 with .
Since then, he has worked with colleagues 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.

International Marine Litter Research Unit

Marine litter is a global environmental problem with items of debris now contaminating habitats from the poles to the equator, from the sea surface to the deep sea.
Furthering our understanding of litter on the environment and defining solutions.
Marine litter