A teenager from Ireland has chosen the University of Groningen to work on a promising idea to remove plastic from the oceans. 18-year-old Fion Ferreira’s idea won the top prize of $ 50,000 at the annual Google Science Fair, as reported by CNN.
Ferreira discovered his plan during a walk on the beach in his own coastal town of Ballydehob. When he came across a stone that had oil and plastic attached to it, he decided to find out how many microplastics first enter our waste water system, and later the oceans. That led Ferreira to think about how a new extraction method could be developed.
The Google Science Fair has been awarding winners for eight years, with the help of sponsors such as Lego, Scientific American, National Geographic and Virgin Galactic. Students aged 13 to 18 from around the world are encouraged to submit and present scientific and technological experiments and results to a jury.
To remove the microplastics, Ferreira wants to use ‘ferrofluids’: non-toxic magnetic liquids consisting of oil and magnetite (an iron-based mineral). These attract microplastics in the water, because both have similar properties. During his experiment, Ferreira dipped a magnet into the solution three times to remove both substances, leaving clear water behind. After a little more than 950 testings, the method was 88% effective in removing a variety of microplastics from water. These results surpassed Ferreira’s original hypothesis of a removal rate of 85%.
Ferreira tells CNN that his passion for science and technology came from his curiosity about nature and the environment. He plans to continue his education in the fall at the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry, at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.