A teenager from Cork, Ireland has been awarded the top prize at this year’s Google Science Fair for his project dedicated to the removal of microplastics from water.

Fionn Ferreira is from Ballydehob, West Cork, Ireland and competed in the Google annual global science competition – open to students between the ages of 13 and 18 – and came away with the highly coveted, internationally acclaimed science award.

Credit: Google Science Award

Ferreira was inspired to launch the project after growing up near the shore in West Cork, Ireland, where he became “increasingly aware of plastic pollution of the oceans.”

Ferreira said:

“I was alarmed to find out how many microplastics enter our [wastewater] system and consequently the oceans. This inspired me to try and find out a way to try and remove microplastics from water before they even reached the sea.”

Living in such a remote area, Ferreria had to build his own equipment and personal lab in order to conduct his and experiments.

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are any plastic particles that are less than 5 millimeters in size. They’re normally found in soaps, gels, face scrubs, toothpaste, and abrasive cleaners. These tiny particles are very hazardous to wildlife including fish and other aquatic organisms vital in the food-chain. The fish mistake the plastic as food and so the cycle starts.

Credit: Oregon State University. Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat.

Ferreira’s idea involves a new process of extracting these hazardous microplastics from our ocean.

By using of a substance called ferrofluids (a combination of oil, magnetite powder, and magnets to extract the microplastics from water) Ferreira says, his method is “most effective on fibers removed from a washing machine and less impactful on polypropylene plastics.”

When he tested his method on water containing microplastics, the plastic particles migrated into the oil, allowing the fluid to be removed using strong magnets.

He had to first produce microplastics to remove from the water and then extracted them using his method.

Ferreira concluded that his new extraction method would be able to remove between 85% to 92% of microplastics in any given sample. The next step would be to scale the project up to an industrial level, he said.

He wrote:

“From this I can conclude that using magnetite with a minimum of oil forms a viable method for the extraction of microplastics,”

Ferreira, who is currently 18 years of age, received $50,000 for his efforts at the event’s award ceremony. If you compare this to the $3 million dollar payout given to winner of the latest Fortnite tournament winner this weekend, it really does highlight everything wrong with this planet. This says so much about us as human beings and where our interest lies.

Teenagers like Fionn Ferreira are a beacon of hope towards the Earth’s future.

Watch his great video below: