Fionn Ferreira, an Irish teenager from Ballydehob in west Cork has been named the overall winner of the 2019 Google Science Fair for his project that removed microplastics from water.
In this prestigious annual global science competition open to students aged 13 to 18, Fionn won an international science award and was awarded a $50,000 (€45,000) bursary at an awards ceremony at the Google international headquarters in Mountain View, California.
His project explored a new method for extracting microplastics from water.
Microplastics enter waterways in many ways;. The key sources microplastics are originating from are:
1) Car tyres (7,000-19,000 tonnes)
2) Clothing(when washed) (150-2,900 tonnes)
3) Plastic pellets used to make plastic items (200-5,900 tonnes) 4) Paints on buildings and road markings (1,400-3,700 tonnes)
In waterways, fish and other wildlife mistake the tiny scraps of plastic(which are less than 5mm in diameter) for food, and from there the tiny plastic particles are integrated into the food chain.
There is currently no screening or filtering for microplastics in any European wastewater treatment centres.
However Ireland plans to introduce legislation that will make the sale, manufacture, import and export of products containing microplastics illegal.
In Ferreira’s experiment, he used ferrofluids; a combination of magnetite powder and oil, alongside magnets to extract the microplastics from the water.
Throughout the 1,000 tests Ferreira carried out, he was able to remove over 87% of microplastics from the water samples.
“The method used was most effective on fibres obtained from a washing machine and least effective on polypropylene plastics,” he said.
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.”
Ferreira has just sat his Leaving Certificate exams at Schull Community College, and will soon be attending university in the Netherlands.
Ferreira works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has won 12 science fair awards, speaks three languages fluently, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
This is a big step for the planet and the not-so-micro issue of microplastics - thank you Fionn!