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Irish Teenager Wins Google Science Award for Removing Microplastics From Oceans

Posted by Maria Cristina Chiulli on

There are solution-seekers like Fionn Ferreira, an 18 year-old Irish wunderkind, who won the grand prize at the 2019 Google Science Fair for creating a method to remove micro plastics from the ocean.

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.

"In chemistry, like attracts like." Ferreira used magnets to attract micro plastics 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 percent of the microplastics from water samples. 

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 micro plastics every year. That number skyrockets up for people who mainly drink bottled water.

"I was alarmed to find out how many micro plastics enter our wastewater  system and consequently the oceans." 

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. "The solution is that we stop using plastic altogether." (source: EcoWatch)

What are you doing today to stop using plastic? 

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