An Ireland teen’s Google Science Fair project may offer the world’s oceans relief from the ever-increasing microplastics pollution dilemma.

Eighteen-year-old Fionn Ferreira won the $50,000 grand prize of educational funds at Google’s annual 2018-2019 fair for teens ages 13 through 18 for his project focusing on the extraction of microplastics from water.

Microplastics are defined as plastics generally fewer than five millimeters long; often found in personal care products like toothpaste and body wash, the tiny plastics easily pass through water filtration systems to harm the marine ecosystem, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Plastic is the most ubiquitous marine debris found in our oceans and the Great Lakes.

Galvanized into action after finding plastic and oil stuck to a stone along the shore of his Atlantic coastal hometown of Ballydehob, Ireland, Ferreira decided to use ferrofluids, non-toxic magnetic liquids, which attract microplastics due to sharing similar properties in the presence of water.

After the ferrofluids and microplastics held fast together, Ferreira used a magnet to remove them both, with an 88% effectiveness rate of removing various microplastics from the water.

Americans themselves likely breathe and ingest between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic particles each year, per a 2019 study in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology.” People who drink bottled water in lieu of tap water can boost that number with an additional annual 90,000 particles.

Written by Nicole Foulke

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