Google Science Fair launched in 2011 as a way to challenge students around the globe to figure out solutions to some of the world's largest problems, and this year's winner focused on a problem we're still wrapping our arms around: microplastics.
Fionn Ferreira, an 18-year-old Irish student, earned the $50,000 prize through a simple desire to help the planet. He was one of 24 finalists from 14 countries who went to Google headquarters to present their projects.
Ferreira from West Cork, Ireland, developed a novel approach to extracting microplastics from water, with the greater goal of creating a method to clean our oceans.
The video below is a closer look at Ferreira's demonstration of how he used a ferrofluid (oil and magnetite) and magnets to clean a sample of water.
You can explore Ferreira's science fair project at the Google Science Fair project page. Beyond the science, it explains his motivation for the project, which stems from growing up near the coast and his love of nature.
He tested 10 different types of microplastic suspensions and found that he could remove 85% or more of the microplastic contents in his samples.
Ultimately, a reduction in the amount of plastic the world uses on a daily basis is the best solution, but this project proves there are new, creative ways to clean the water we've already polluted.
Lawmakers in Ireland currently have plans to introduce legislation that will outlaw the sale, manufacturing, import and export of products containing microplastics.
For his efforts, Ferreira was awarded $50,000 in scholarship money. He would like to study chemistry or chemical engineering in Ireland or in Europe. He currently works as a curator at the local Schull Planetarium, is fluent in three languages, is a skilled trumpet player, and has won 12 science fair awards.
As he described in his project page, it's the next step of the process that opens doors: "... winning a prize would give my project more attention and let it grow with mentorship to solve a real problem on the Earth. There is nothing I would like to see more than my project and idea to be used in real life applications and I think a prize could do this."
For any young scientists itching to explore their own idea, your chance will come. The project submission window typically runs for a couple of months starting in September and ending in December. And as this year's callout to young scientists reminds us, every great idea starts somewhere.