September 16, 2019
An Irish teenager has received a global science award for his project aiming to protect oceans from plastic pollution.
Eighteen-year-old Fionn Ferreira was named the winner of the 2019 Google Science Fair for his innovative idea of using magnets to filter microplastics from bodies of water. Ferreira found that a magnetic liquid called ferrofluid – a nontoxic magnetic liquid made of oil and magnetite – attracts plastics, which can then removed from the water using a magnet.
The idea came to the young scientist near his remote coastal town in southwest Ireland where he found a rock covered in oil, noticing that tiny bits of plastic had stuck to the oil.
A 2015 study found that around eight million metric tonnes of our plastic waste enters our oceans from land each year, much of which consists of microplastics, or tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter. Microplastics result from larger pieces of plastic that break down over time, as well as microbeads commonly found in cosmetic products such as face wash, body scrubs and toothpaste.
Microplastics are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in our natural environment, with recent studies finding these particles in arctic snow, suggesting that they are being absorbed into the atmosphere.
After nearly a thousand tests Ferreira found that his method successfully removed approximately 87% of microplastics from water samples, representing an encouraging step forward in the fight against this growing problem.
Ferreira acknowledges the scale of the microplastics problem, telling Business Insider, “I’m not saying that my project is the solution. The solution is that we stop using plastic altogether.”
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Kate joined Planet Ark in mid-2019 as an intern from the University of New South Wales where she studies International Studies and Media. With a passion for environmental issues and sustainability, Kate hopes to promote positive and collective environmental action.