Hom explained that their project entailed "develop(ing) our own ferrofluid, which is a magnetic nonpolar fluid, to attract microplastics" -- which are plastic particles below five millimeters in diameter. "Microplastics have harmful effects on small organisms such as krill, which make up the backbone of the ocean ecosystem."
Hom said that while there are methods in use for removing large pieces of plastic from the ocean, "there are currently zero methods to deal with these harmful microplastics. All large plastic eventually becomes microplastic, so as time goes on, it will accumulate unless dealt with," he explained.
"What we did was design a better ferrofluid by adding oleic acid, which coats the ferrofluid to make it smoother and have a higher affinity of attraction with microplastics," Hom said of his team's experiment. Their results were promising, with their ferrofluid removing upwards of 90% of common microplastics such as high-density polyethylene.
The annual Excellence in Water Research Award is intended for students who demonstrate commitment in researching how to create a sustainable water supply or protect public health and the environment.
DSRSD congratulated the three students for their commitment to water research and awarded them with a $200 prize each, along with $100 for their science teacher, Janet Kaehms. The award was sponsored by 22 local water and wastewater agencies.
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