Irish teen wins global science award for developing method to remove microplastics from water

An 18-year-old Irish teen recently won the Google Science Fair for a project he submitted that removes microplastics from water, according to the Journal of Ireland:

“(Fionn Ferreira’s) project examined a new method for extracting microplastics (plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter) from water.

Microplastics or microbeads are mostly used in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs to exfoliate skin, although they also can be found in toothpaste and abrasive cleaners.

“In waterways, fish and other wildlife mistake the tiny scraps of plastic for food and, from there, the beads are integrated into the food chain.”

The Irish teen’s method for removing microplastics involves ferrofluids, which are a combination of oil and magnetite powder. Magnets are then used to extract the microplastics from water.

In 1,000 tests of the new method, Ferreira was able to remove over 87% of the microplastics from water samples that contained them.

Ferreira, who won $50,000 for his project, spoke about where he’s had the most success with this ferrofluid approach to the microplastic problem, which has grown exponentially in recent years:

‘”The method used was most effective on fibres obtained from a washing machine and least effective on polypropylene plastics.’

“Ferreira stated that his proposal could ‘form the basis for an effective way of extracting microplastic from water,’  adding: ‘The next step is to scale this up to an industrial scale.'”

The young man said he launched his project after growing up near the shore in West Cork, Ireland, and became increasingly concerned with the plastic waste he saw in the ocean:

“I was alarmed to find out how many microplastics enter our [wastewater] system and consequently the oceans. This inspired me to try and find out a way to try and remove microplastics from water before they even reached the sea.”

What makes Ferreira’s accomplishment even more amazing is that since he lives in a remote part of Ireland, he had to rely on his own ingenuity when it came to performing experiments:

“Because he lives in such a remote area, he had to build his own equipment and lab to conduct tests and experiments, he said. On his website, Ferreria describes himself as not only a scientist but a musician, gardener, educator, entrepreneur and innovator.”

Ferriera took his exams last month at Schull Community College and is now headed to the Netherlands for further study at a Dutch university.


Featured Image Via Fionn Ferreira

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Andrew Bradford

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