Fionn Ferreira, an 18-year-old from West Cork, Ireland, is one smart kid. So smart, in fact, that he recently won a $50,000 prize from the Google Science Fair for his project that focused on extracting microplastics from water.
Google (along with Lego, Virgin Galactic, National Geographic and Scientific American) launched the competition in 2011, sending out a call for young people aged 13-18 to submit their projects and present their results in front of judges.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in diameter – too small to be filtered out during wastewater treatment. Microplastics are a significant environmental hazard; they end up in waterways where small fish eat them, then larger fish eat the smaller fish, and eventually microplastics end up in the fish that humans consume. A recent study showed that humans thousands of bits of microplastic every year, to unknown health effects.
They are found in shower gels, soaps, and facial scrubs, and they come off of clothes when put through a washing machine. They dissolve from plastic water bottles into the water inside. Simply put: microplastics are a problem and any progress toward getting them out of our waterways would be a huge step.
Ferreira utilized a combination of oil and magnetite powder to create a ferrofluid (a liquid that is strongly magnetized) in the water containing the microplastics. Ferreira then used a magnet to extract both the microplastics and the ferrofluid from the water. Impressive!
And, trust me, this isn’t some one-off with for Ferreira. The young man has won 12 previous science fair competitions, speaks three languages fluently, and has a minor planet named after him (MIT named it). I think it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing his name in the future.
Color me impressed. Folks like to complain about young people being lazy and aimless, but not me! And here’s the proof. Keep up the good work, Fionn!