Cork student heads to Google Science Fair with microplastics filtration project

Fionn Ferreira
Fionn Ferreira from Schull Community College

Fionn Ferreira's work could tackle global pollution problem

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30 May 2019 | 0

A student at Schull Community College is heading to Google headquarter this July to compete at the annual Google Science Fair with a project tackling the issue of microplastics pollution.

Fionn Ferreira (18) from Ballydehob – a previous entrant of the BT Young Scientist Exhibition – is one of 20 global finalists chosen from a shortlist of 100 regional entries competing for the top prize of a $50,000 bursary, with category winners each receiving $15,000 grants and exclusive STEM-related experiences.

His project, An investigation into the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids, puts forward a way to filter microplastics from water by using magnets.

In addition to becoming a finalist in one of the most prestigious STEM competitions for students, the 18-year-old Leaving Cert student works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has won 12 science fair awards, speaks three languages, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and has even had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

“My project came about as I was constantly hearing about plastic pollution on the news, and as I live by the sea in West Cork I was also seeing the real effects on our beaches every day,” said Ferreira. “I discovered to my dismay that at present no screening or filtering for microplastics takes place in any European wastewater treatment centres, so I started looking around for a solution.

“Seeing that there was none I decided to investigate further, eventually finding a way to use ferrofluid, a magnetic liquid which sticks to the plastic allowing it to be removed using magnets. I was inspired by an article I read about how non-toxic iron oxide powder can be used to clean up oil spills by making a ferrofluid from the spilled oil. So to adapt this for microplastics I used a mixture of magnetite (iron oxide) and waste vegetable oil, and the resulting ferrofluid sticks to and attracts plastic particles. After over 1,000 tests I have proved that my method would remove 87% or higher of microplastics in sample tests.

“I can’t wait to get to Google HQ in California to talk about my project, and I look forward to applying my findings and contributing towards a solution in tacking microplastics in our oceans worldwide.”

The Google Science Fair has been running annually since 2011 and is held in partnership with Virgin Galactic, Lego Education, National Geographic, and Scientific American.

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