An 18-year-old from the Republic of Ireland has found a way to use ‘magnetic liquid’ invented by NASA to remove harmful microplastics from water.
Irish teen wins $50,000 for his project to extract micros-plastics from water
A teenager from West Cork, Ireland, may have found a way to rescue our oceans from the growing plastic pollution problem. A walk on the beach led Fionn Ferreira to develop his project on microplastic extraction from water for the annual Google Science Fair. The project won the grand prize of $50,000 in educational funding at this year’s event.
After nearly 1000 tests, device successfully removed about 88% of the microplastics
The climate crisis is a big deal to young people. We have seen teenagers such as Greta Thunberg inspiring children around the world to take part in political activism.
Then, there are practical solution-seekers like Fionn Ferreira, an 18 year-old from West Cork, who won the $50,000 grand prize at the 2019 Google Science Fair for creating a method to remove microplastics from the oceans.
Ferreira’s project uses a novel, but effective methodology for removing ocean plastics. He used magnets to attract microplastics from water. The project found that a magnetic liquid called ferrofluid attracted the tiny plastic particles and removed them from the water. After nearly a thousand tests, his device successfully removed about 88% of the microplastics from water samples.
"I look forward to applying my findings and contributing towards a solution in tackling microplastics in our oceans worldwide," he told The Irish Times.
The Google Science Fair invited 24 young scientists from around the world to its Mountain View, California campus to show off their projects. The invitees were chosen from a short list of 100 global entries. Ferreira’s grand prize is $50,000 in educational funding.
“The solution is that we stop using plastic altogether,” says young inventor
The idea came to Ferreira after finding a rock covered in oil near his remote coastal town in Ireland’s southwest. He noticed tiny bits of plastic stuck to the oil. The tiny size of microplastics has confounded scientists looking for ways to remove them from the environment. But Ferreira thought of something.
"It got me thinking," Ferreira said, as Business Insider reported. "In chemistry, like attracts like."
Those microplastics, which are less than 5mm long, come from beauty products, various textiles and larger bits of plastic that break down. Since they are so small, they escape water filtration systems and end up polluting waterways. Once in rivers and oceans, marine animals of all sizes end up ingesting them.
They are ending up in humans as well. A recent study found that humans eat, on average, over 50,000 pieces of microplastics every year. That number skyrockets up for people who mainly drink bottled water.
"I was alarmed to find out how many microplastics enter our wastewater system and consequently the oceans," he wrote in his project.
Since plastic and oil stick together, Ferreira wondered if the same thing would happen if he used ferrofluid, which helps control vibration in speakers and seals off electronic devices from debris.
Both microplastics and ferrofluids have similar properties, so they attract. For his experiments, Ferreira added ferrofluids to water and then stirred in a solution full of microplastics.
When the microplastics found the ferrofluids, they adhered together. Ferreira then dipped a magnet to the solution, which attracted the combined ferrofluids and microplastics. It left behind clear water.
Ferreira is proud of what he created and the prize he received before heading to the University of Groningen in the Netherlands for college. However, he warned that solely removing plastics from the water is not the answer.
"I’m not saying that my project is the solution," he said, as Business Insider reported. "The solution is that we stop using plastic altogether."
Full details of the project — An investigation into the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids.
What are Microplastics? And 6 tips on how reduce to them
Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5mm (0.2 in) long. They have been found everywhere! They are found in our oceans, our rivers, our air, but also our food, bottled water, and tap water. Due to their small size, they are easy to digest and are now the subject of a health review by the World Health Organisation. Here’s how to reduce them.