Microplastics are 5nm or less in size and too small for filtering or screening during wastewater treatment. As well as water they can be found in soap, shower gels, face scrubs and can come off clothing when washed.
The microplastics then make their way into waterways and are impossible to remove through filtration. Small fish are known to eat microplastics and as larger fish eat smaller fish these microplastics are concentrated into larger fish species that humans consume.
Ferreira’s project, ‘An investigation into the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids’, explores filtering microplastics from water using magnets.
In his entry submission to the competition, he wrote; the quantity of plastic removed by his method was greater than 85pc, except for polypropylene, which had an average reduction of 80pc and said 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.
“This project only forms the very beginning of this extraction idea, which has never been conducted before,” said Ferreira.
“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.”
Google launched the Google Science Fair in 2011 where students aged 13-18 can submit experiments and show the results in front of a panel of judges.
This year the event was held at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California with sponsors including Lego, Virgin Galactic, National Geographic and Scientific American.
Ferreira was one of 24 finalists chosen from a shortlist of 100 regional entries.
Click here to see all the finalists.