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Irish Teen May Have The Solution For Removing Microplastics From Water

The Google Science Fair, which began in 2011, is a place that allows students between ages 13-18 to submit experiments to a panel of judges. The winner receives the grand prize of $50,000, and this year’s winner was a teenager form West Cork, Ireland named Fionn Ferreira. His project was titled “An Investigation into the Removal of Microplastics from Water Using Ferro Fluids,” which examined a method for removing microplastics from water.

 

Microplastics, which are less than two millimeters in diameter, pose a major threat to our oceans. Even though the existence of microplastics in our oceans and food sources is a problem, it is difficult to remove them because they are so small. Ferreira may have discovered a solution for their removal, though, using magnetite powder (a.k.a. iron oxide). His hypothesis is based on the work of Dr. Arden Warner, a man who discovered that magnetite powder could help clean up oil spills. The reason this works is because magnetite powder and oil are non-polar. Ferreira wanted to apply this to microplastics in water. For fear of incorrectly explaining his method of extraction, here is what Ferreira wrote in his science paper.

 

“I used this method in the extraction of microplastics by adding oil to a suspension containing a known concentration of microplastics, these then migrated into the oil phase. Magnetite powder was added. The resulting microplastic containing ferro-fluid was removed using strong magnets.” He later went on to explain that he chose ten different types of plastics to continue his testing, and conducted more than 1,000 tests, concluding that this method would be effective at removing about 85% of microplastics from water.

 

Microplastics make their way into the ocean from landfills and litter, but also from fishing nets and gear that get discarded in the ocean. These things are not biodegradable; rather, they continue to break down into smaller pieces of plastic, resulting in billions of tiny microfibers and microplastics, which cannot be filtered. Small fish eat these microplastics and bigger fish eat the smaller fish. Humans then eat the bigger fish, so humans consume microplastics. A recent study indicated that humans swallow around 2,000 microplastics every week.

 

Ferreira has the hopes of taking his at-home tests further to create a large-scale operation, focusing on the removal of microplastics from larger bodies of water. In closing, Ferreira urges that testing does not need to be conducted in professional labs to yield results. You can build your own equipment and test everything at home.

 

Sources:

https://www.googlesciencefair.com/projects/2018/2c3f6207b15f46cb4bb66a56095bd6d901ccfa42e7e51600c766df7856590c4e

https://www.forbes.com/sites/insights-whittiertrust/2019/07/08/planning-your-exit-five-questions-on-optimizing-results/#123e9ddc7fa3

https://www.greenmatters.com/p/microplastic-oceans-google-science-fair

2019-08-10T10:52:22-07:00