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Fionn may have found solution to plastics pollution

May 21st, 2018 7:35 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Fionn working at the lab in Schull Community School. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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A FIFTH-year student of Schull Community College jetted off to the US last week to represent Ireland at this week’s world’s biggest science fair.

In June, 17-year old Fionn Ferreira will also be travelling to Seattle where he will be working with scientists on how to develop his award-winning project to remove microplastics from water.

In addition to winning first prize in the Senior Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences category at the BT Young Scientist of the Year last January, Fionn Ferreira also won the Intel Award.

This prize was an all-expenses paid trip to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania for him and his teacher, Dr Larissa Kelly, from May 12th to 18th.

Fionn is representing Ireland at Intel ISEF science fair and competing with 3,000 other students from all over the world for more than m in award funds.

Fionn also won the Intellectual Ventures Insightful Invention award at the BT Young Scientist competition and the prize for that will see him take yet another all-expenses-paid trip to Seattle in June, to develop his project at the Intellect Ventures lab.

There, he will receive some guidance from Nathan Myhrvold, head of the facility, which supports inventors and scientists who are working on projects for the global good.

What has earned Fionn such early recognition is the fact that he has come up with a completely new method for extracting microplastics from water.

The secondary school student explained that microplastics are a huge problem and are already having a detrimental effect on the health of humans and wildlife because almost all water now contains microplastics.

The source of these microplastics includes synthetic clothes that become eroded in washing machines and other products, such as facial scrubs.

Fionn has developed a method of extracting these by using magnetite – which is a 100% natural magnetic powder that is not harmful to animals – and oil, to stick to the plastic effectively, making the plastic magnetic. 

He said: ‘The microplastics pollutant can be removed using a magnet. And the magnetic liquid called “ferro-fluid” can be re-used many times.’

Fionn used a home-built spectrometer to test the efficacy of his method and the results proved to be very promising – they showed an extraction rate of over 87% from contaminated water.

His achievement has impressed not only his teacher and the judges at the Young Scientist of the Year competition, it has also drawn the interest of American agencies that have the ability to help him develop his prototype.

According to Fionn, the good news is that his method is very cost-efficient but he agrees that it does need further development.

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