Cork teenager’s microplastics project wins $50,000 at Google Science Fair

30 Jul 2019

From left: Fionn Ferreira and Vint Cerf, vice-president and chief internet evangelist at Google, with the Google Science Fair trophy. Image: Google

For his efforts to remove microplastics from our water, Cork native Fionn Ferreira has won the grand prize at the 2019 Google Science Fair.

An Irish teenager has gained attention on the world stage by winning an international science competition for his project that aims to curb the growing problem of microplastics.

18-year-old Fionn Ferreira of Ballydehob in West Cork has been named the grand prize winner of the 2019 edition of the Google Science Fair, which was held at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

His project, titled ‘An investigation into the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids’, posits a novel way to filter microplastics from water using magnets. By winning the grand prize, Ferreira has walked away with $50,000.

Writing in his submission to the competition, Ferreira said that the quantity of plastic removed by his method was greater than 85pc, except for polypropylene, which had an average reduction of 80pc. He added that the approach would be most effective for use in urban wastewater treatment, where more than 55pc of plastics in wastewater originate from washing machines and clothes.

Further research needed

Ferreira noted that this was a starting point for further research. “This project only forms the very beginning of this extraction idea, which has never been conducted before,” he said.

“Further research needs to be carried out to investigate the efficacy of various grades of magnetite, different types of magnetic systems, methods for separating the waste and the design of a system that could be introduced into treatment centres.”

He was one of 24 finalists chosen from a shortlist of 100 regional entries that were looking to compete in one of the most prestigious STEM student competitions in the world. Ferreira’s win comes just a month after completing his Leaving Cert as a student of Schull Community College, and he is now looking to continue his studies in the Netherlands.

Ferreira also works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has won 12 science fair awards, speaks three languages fluently, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and has even had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Other award winners at the competition included Indonesian student Celestine Wenardy, who set out to find a non-invasive way to test blood sugar levels, and Turkish science enthusiast Tuan Dolmen, who found a way to harness energy from tree vibrations.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic