A new method for removing microplastics from the oceans has emerged from, of all things, a science fair project. An Irish 18-year-old named Fionn Ferreira developed his project for the annual Google Science Fair and it won the grand prize of $50,000 in educational funding.
The teenager was walking on the beach in his hometown and ran across a stone with oil and plastic stuck to it and became focused on the problem of microplastics increasingly entering the environment.
His idea was to make use of ferrofluids, which are nontoxic magnetic fluids made of oil and magnetite, which is an iron-based mineral. In the presence of water, the ferrofluids attract microplastics because both have similar properties.
Ferreira added oil and magnetite to water and mixed in a solution of microplastic particles. When the microplastics latched onto the ferrofluids, he dipped a magnet into the solution several times and the magnet removed both substances, leaving clear water. After almost 1000 tests, he demonstrated the method to be 88% effective in removing a variety of microplastics from water; a result even better than his original hypothesis of an 85% removal rate.
Ferreira is planning to further his education at a prestigious chemistry institute in the Netherlands starting in the fall.
According to a recent study, Americans eat, drink and breathe between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic particles each year and, if they drink bottle water only instead of tap water, an additional 90,000 particles. So, a science fair project that might provide a way to get rid of most these things is definitely prize-worthy.
Photo, posted April 25, 2016, courtesy of Boe Eide via Flickr.