Fionn Ferreira survives on a remote island in West Cork, a seaside area in southern Ireland. One day while kayaking, he found a rock on the coast that had actually been covered in oil from a current spill. Connected to the rock were little bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters long– what researchers call “microplastics.”

Find Out More: Americans inadvertently consume 200 small pieces of towels, beads, and plastic foams every day. Here’s how anxious you ought to be.

Due to the fact that microplastics are so little (about the size of a sesame seed), researchers have had a hard time to discover methods to eliminate them from the environment. However Ferreira found something brand-new when he saw the oil-coated rock on the coast.

“It got me believing,” Ferreira stated. “In chemistry, like brings in like.”

Both plastic and oil are nonpolar, implying they’re most likely to stay with one another in nature. As a budding researcher, Ferreira had an inkling that the very same result might be developed utilizing a magnetic liquid discovered in speakers and electronic gadgets.

On Monday, Ferreira won the Google Science Fair’s $50,000 grand reward for his experiment, which revealed that the liquid might draw out microplastics from water.

Microplastics threaten to marine life and might have effects for human health

A scientist holds a blue rectangle-shaped piece of microplastic.
Ted S. Warren/AP

Microplastic pieces originated from a range of sources, consisting of charm items, tooth paste, and microfiber towels. They can likewise come from bigger pieces of plastic that have actually broken down with time. As an outcome, microplastics frequently collect in bodies of water like the ocean near Ferreira’s house, posturing a risk to marine life

They can likewise wind up in our food and water. Researchers have actually approximated that Americans take in as much as 52,000 microplastic particles each year, however the effects for human health are still unidentified.

Among the primary issues is that microplastics might bring harmful chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) into our bodies These chemicals have actually been connected to cancer and reproductive problems.

A ‘magnetic liquid’ developed by NASA can gather microplastic from water

Spiked patterns in ferro-fluid as seen in the product science shows at the Museum of Science and Market in Chicago.
J. B. Spector/Museum of Science and Market Chicago/Getty Images

In 1963, NASA engineer Steve Papell developed a method to make rocket fuel magnetic so that it might move around in no gravity throughout the Apollo objectives. While doing so, he ended up producing the very first ferro-fluid, which is basically a magnetic liquid.

Today, the compound assists manage vibrations in speakers and seal electronic devices so they do not end up being obstructed with particles. It’s likewise an essential part of Ferreira’s strategy to eliminate microplastics from water.

“I definitely enjoy ferro-fluid,” stated Ferreira, who makes his own variation of the liquid by suspending magnetite powder– a mineral discovered naturally in the world’s surface area– in grease. (The oil left over by fast-food chains like McDonald’s works well, he stated.)

Unlike rocket fuel, Ferreira’s mix isn’t damaging to the environment, however it does bring in plastic from all kinds of water, consisting of rivers and oceans.

Ferreira stated the most special part of his mix is that it can be utilized to eliminate plastic from wastewater (water disposed of from houses, companies, and plants, for instance). Research studies have actually revealed that the world’s wastewater treatment plants aren’t geared up to filter out microplastics, regardless of the truth that they’re significant factors to microplastic contamination.

Ferreira simply won top place in the Google Science Fair

Ferreira accepts his prize at the Google Science Fair.

For his experiment, Ferreira injected ferro-fluid into little glasses of water polluted with microplastics. Initially, the water turned entirely black due to the fact that of the magnetite, however when Ferreira put a magnet inside the glass, it began to take in all the fluid. Ultimately, the water inside the glass was entirely clear, and mainly devoid of plastic.

Prior to starting his experiment, Ferreira bet that his magnetic liquid might eliminate a minimum of 85% of microplastics from his water samples. By the end, he ended up eliminating around 88%.

Of the 10 various microplastics he evaluated, Ferreira stated the most tough fibers to eliminate originated from polypropylene, a kind of plastic utilized in product packaging for customer items. However even then, Ferreira got rid of around 80% of polypropylene plastics, usually, by the end of the experiment.

The most convenient fibers to eliminate, he stated, were those launched by cleaning maker filters. Ferreira stated that’s a crucial finding due to the fact that cleaning devices are a typical source of microplastic contamination.

After taking a trip to Mountain View, California, for the science reasonable, Ferreira is now back in Ireland, recuperating from jet lag.

“I still actually can’t think it,” he stated of the competitors. “There are great deals of various feelings in my head at the minute.”

Later on this year, Ferreira will start studying at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, a research study organization situated listed below water level. (” What’s cooler than being at a university that’s 6 meters under the surface area of the sea?” he stated.)

At the very same time, he’ll attempt to release his principle for dealing with wastewater.

“I’m not stating that my job is the option,” he stated. “The option is that we stop utilizing plastic completely.”