Irish Teen’s Winning Microplastics Solution

An Irish teen is getting worldwide attention for his innovative solution to microplastics in water. Eighteen year old Fionn Ferreira from Ballydehob in the west of County Cork won the overall prize of $50,000 at this year’s Google Science Fair.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles too small to be removed by normal filtration systems. They pose a threat to all living creatures, including humans and fish. It is an extremely difficult and depressing problem, but Ferreira’s solution offers new hope for extracting the particles from water and for preventing them from reaching the ocean.

How It Works

Ferreira created a ferromagnetic fluid using magnetite powder and oil. This substance becomes magnetic when exposed to a magnetic field. The fluid he created combined with the microplastics in the water, which allowed him to use a magnet to extract the plastics. Ferreira tested his process a thousand times and found it is 87% effective. He claims it works well to extract ten of the most common types of microplastics.

The young scientist is hoping that his process can be developed and scaled to use in water treatment facilities. That could take years, and in the meantime, he is off to university in the Netherlands.

Face and body scrubs, toothpastes and even our clothes are sources of microplastics. We can all help by reading labels and making careful choices to avoid them. Look for cosmetics that use natural exfoliants and choose clothing made with natural fibres such as cotton as much as possible.

Inspired by Beautiful West Cork

Talking to Irish media, Ferreira said that living near the sea in West Cork, an area beloved by Irish and foreign tourists, inspired him. He enjoys sea kayaking and sailing, and he has a keen interest in science. Having previously won 12 other science fairs, he clearly has a great mind for science. He also plays trumpet, speaks three languages fluently, and volunteers at the local planetarium. It is not surprising that MIT’s Lincoln Lab has already named a minor planet after this rising star.

If any environment could inspire someone to work hard to preserve and protect the ocean, it is West Cork. Famous for incredible local food and scenery, this part of County Cork includes charming towns and some of Ireland’s best beaches. Just outside the foodie haven of Kinsale, Garretstown Beach and Garrylucas Beach are both wide sandy beaches that offer excellent surfing. The town of Clonakilty with its famous, colorful streetscapes is near the beloved Inchydonny Beach, an idyllic spot to spread a blanket and relax for a few hours watching the waves roll in.

Our oceans are in peril around the world. Plastics, chemicals and other pollutants are fouling them, threatening marine habitats, the creatures who live there and ultimately all of us who feed on fish or seaweed. But it is not hopeless. In recent years we’ve seen amazing initiatives to clean the beaches and to reuse plastic claimed from the sea. Our great, great grandchildren deserve to enjoy the beautiful beaches in West Cork and around the world just as we have.

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