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50k Google science grant goes to 18-year old eco-innovator

Irish teenager Fionn Ferreira has won the 2019 Google Science Fair – the prestigious young scientist exhibition for the world’s brightest kids. The 18-year old received the top honour for his solution that removes microplastics from the ocean.

Fionn’s method relies on ferrofluids and magnets to remove even the smallest plastic waste particles (less than 5mm in diameter) from the waves. His breakthrough earned him prize money of EUR 45 000 (US$ 50 000) to help him scale-up his work.

Strong magnets

‘My project came about as I was constantly hearing about plastic pollution on the news. As I live by the sea in West Cork, I was also seeing the real effects on our beaches every day,’ Fionn says. The youngman eventually found that a magnetic liquid which was part of the answer; ‘it sticks to the plastic allowing it to be removed using strong magnets.’

This approach was inspired by the work of physicist Arden Warner, who used non-toxic iron oxide to clean up oil spills. Fionn conducted an experiment at a local plastic waste hotspot and, indeed, concluded that the plastic particles migrated into the oil phase, and at least 85% of the fluid was removed magnetically. The method proved effective to recover 10 types of plastics.

The Irish teeager was in great company: he was one of 24 global finalists selected from a shortlist of 100 entries to wow the Google panel at the California event on July 29.

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