• Irish teen may have discovered solution to global plastic crisis

    The Green News.ie, May 29th 2018
    Fionn Ferreira, a 17-year-old student from Schull Community College recently left top scientists at the world’s largest pre-college science fair in awe when he revealed his inventive idea for removing microplastics from the water.Fionn’s award-winning idea involves the use of a natural magnet to extract plastic particles from the oceans.
    “I was constantly hearing about plastic pollution on the news. So, I started looking around for a solution, and it seemed to me that there was none,” Fionn told The Green News.
    “I was always interested in environmental issues, but my biggest concern was always plastic pollution, however, when I tested my project at home, and I was able to remove the plastics [from water], that’s when I became really interested in microplastics pollution,” Fionn says.
    Tiny plastics in the ocean contaminate water and may seriously endanger marine life. A new study published in the journal Science reveals that juvenile fish have started to chow down on plastic microparticles instead of zooplankton.This unnatural diet has led to stunted growth, behavioural changes, and will ultimately increase mortality rates among the fish population.The secondary school student, who delights at the appearance of a challenge, was determined to search for a solution to this problem.
    Combining his intelligence and relentless curiosity, the teenage entrepreneur finally discovered a feasible, cost-efficient solution in the admixture of oil and magnetite powder. “I thought that oil is non-polar [doesn’t possess negative or positive charge] which means it sticks to something that is also non-polar and plastics are non-polar,” Fionn says.
    “So, I thought maybe they might stick together… Then I thought what if I mix oil with something magnetic and stick them in water and it could be used as a magnet.”The combination of oil and magnetite makes the plastic entirely magnetic and easy to remove from the water.
    “The microplastics can be removed with the magnet, and the magnetic fluid called ferrofluid can be re-used several times,” he says.Fionn has tested his prototype and his home-built spectrometer shows that his innovative magnet has the capacity of extracting 87 per cent of microplastics from the water.The spectrometer is also an invention of its kind. “My spectrometer is an instrument that passes light through a sample. As a result, I can determine what exactly is inside a sample, and it is a very accurate model,” he says.
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