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Irish Teenager Wins Global Science Award for Removing Microplastics from Water (physics-astronomy.org)
328 points by rchaudhary 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



"Ferrier sat his Leaving Certificate exams last month at Schull Community College and is due to attend university in the Netherlands. The teenager 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 had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory."

Anyone else feeling somewhat inadequate in comparison?


Sounds like he has parents from different countries, first name is Irish, surname sounds Portuguese(?) so head start there on the language front, perhaps. Schull is a very small community, couple of thousand max but there's been a lot of 'alternative' type immigration there from other first world countries, artists etc from places like England (eg Jeremy irons), Netherlands so its secondary school is pretty progressive afaik. They have a slipway to the bay right next to the school so the school does sailing classes etc. The planetarium in question is a stone's throw from the school. County Cork has a youth orchestra. Overall not the worst place in the world to grow up.


This reads like a figurative kick in the face to those who argue against free education and social programmes "because the market will solve it and those that work hard enough will make it, so it's fair". The world is deeply unjust economically and the vast majority loses from that, and those, that manage the inquality by using the cheap larbor and forced constraints of the disadvantaged to serve the more fortunate ones, win. Even the fortunate ones win from rich neighbours, so there should be a big consensus for universal conditionless free education, social security and health insurance backed by the government.

I know this might be interpreted as a flamebait and I see the common "but the government is incompetent/corrupt/inefficient" answers already, but those don't negate what I just wrote in any way upon closer inspection. However, this is genuinely how I feel and I feel stupidified when I see how these programmes aren't yet serious international standards.


> there should be a big consensus for universal conditionless free education, social security and health insurance backed by the government.

You allude to the best argument for these things, something like: "people are born into the world with a set of advantages and disadvantages they neither earned nor deserve, so we should do our best to even the playing field".

But you missed the mark in terms of identifying the best argument from the other side. "Because the market will solve it and those that work hard enough will make it, so it's fair" is not the argument. That's a just world hypothesis. The good argument is: high taxes and large social programs distort economic incentives; if you "tax the rich at 70%," people will behave differently, and your society will be less wealthy as a result. Which would you rather have? A wealthy society with inequality or a poor society without inequality? Anyway, the fundamental point here is that all human progress is agonistic, and "evening the playing field" will result in less progress, not more.

We're trying to walk the line between these two perspectives. We have "free" social programs but wealth still buys all kinds of advantages. I think we're doing a fairly good job, but it's imperative that we take both sides of this argument seriously. There's no reason to think we can have our cake and eat it.


> Which would you rather have? A wealthy society with inequality or a poor society without inequality?

This is a good as in goodwill and honest point here. However, I think it isn't a dichotomy based on evidence. For example, most of northern Europe has these programmes and they are not poor, and there exist many poor countries without these programmes. If I thought these programmes would leave the people less wealthy, healthy, happy, I would be against them.

If the programmes create negative incentives in people as to not be productive and successful to a degree that offsets the advantages in reduced crime, more tax because of higher educated people and thus salary and countless other and not easily measured advantages like progress on science, culture, and art, then I would be against those programmes. This is however not what we are seeing. It is a scary shadow on the wall while we can see the cute bunny in the foreground with our eyes directly.


That’s a falsifiable argument. US has averaged faster economic growth with high marginal tax rates than low ones. The reality is rich people have no choice but to invest their wealth or inflation eats it up. The only real change from 15% to 70% marginal tax rates is the amount of effort put into tax avoidance. The reason for this is maximizing income occurs before taxes are calculated, so you can get nearly identical behavior independent of tax rates.

Further, equality of opportunity is surprisingly cheap over time. You end up with more capable workforce which pays for the cost of maintaining it.

PS: Now targeted deductions are another story, those can cause real economic harm.


I don't think you've falsified the argument. Maybe you would have if economic growth and marginal tax rates are the only variables.

I think it's pretty clear that progressive taxes create negative incentives, particularly when it comes to encouraging people to get rich in the first place (which usually means starting a business).

> Further, equality of opportunity is surprisingly cheap over time. You end up with more capable workforce which pays for the cost of training it.

Yeah, the question is where to draw the line. Public education seems like something we definitely want. But if we truly want equality of opportunity, I don't think we can have communities like this:

> Schull is a very small community, couple of thousand max but there's been a lot of 'alternative' type immigration there from other first world countries, artists etc from places like England (eg Jeremy irons), Netherlands so its secondary school is pretty progressive afaik. They have a slipway to the bay right next to the school so the school does sailing classes etc. The planetarium in question is a stone's throw from the school. County Cork has a youth orchestra. Overall not the worst place in the world to grow up.

Everyone can't have sailing lessons and a planetarium.


Plenty of evidence for the same thing exist in other countries. Which is my point, if that’s your line of argument you need to verify it not just assume it to be true.

Anyway, few people are going to turn down becoming rich because they end up with only 100 million instead of 300 million dollars. Opportunity however plays an important role and again you can measure relative importance via social mobility. Comparing different counties at different time periods and once again Opportunity ends up far more important than high but not punitive tax rates.

We are never going to have absolutely identical opportunity for everyone in society. But, these are not platonic ideals rather measurable and testable pragmatic choices.


> Which would you rather have? A wealthy society with inequality or a poor society without inequality?

Is a powerful false dichotomy argued by the rich. It is NOT a poor society, but people fear they would be less rich, when 99% of them won't be if you add in the societal benefits.

Just having good education is going to make your country wealthier in a generation.


That's ok as far as it goes, but it's not very far. To be convincing, the argument about negative incentives resulting in lower growth needs to be expanded on more than it usually is. (Or is reasonable to do in casual conversation.)


You’re not alone there. Ontario is battling it out over this (once again). It’s regretful that it’s even a question anymore.


A few years ago, we were considering relocating to Toronto. We went to a school and had a meeting with the principal of the local school. This principal said to us in no uncertain terms that if we can afford private school, to not send our children to public school in Toronto. Now, could this be a selfish reason on his part? Sure, but I doubt it. He walked us through why.

Toronto is huge.

What you see with the teenager in question is a small town with decent enough resources. And that is the decision we took ultimately: to move to a small town with rich residents.


I grew up on the other side of that coin—a small town without enough resources. It wasn’t the worst of them, but when school boards were amalgamated it sparked internal politics as to where funding was allocated. I was a kid, so I wasn’t directly involved, but looking back on it—it was sad. Rural regions basically battling each other to keep textbooks up to date. And even in that state there were kids winning nation-wide scholarships. The problem was the others who weren’t so gifted had opportunities stripped from them by some man they’d never know. I could go on an anger-filled rant about it but I won’t. (Haha?)

I prefer to say anything I’ve done or accomplished was in spite of that situation (and because of good teachers) rather than because of those stringent circumstances.

But yes, in Ontario the best schools are probably just outside of the big city centres rather than in them. Upper Canada College for one. The world that places like that exist in is so far removed from the Canada I grew up with that I still think I’d have to see it in person to believe it exists. I’m only partly exaggerating.

I hope we can do better than that in the future I’m realizing that we’re all better off if every child has the opportunity to learn and experience from the widest array—rather than limiting those opportunities to children who had the good fortune of good circumstance. It’s not exactly in their control, and it seems like a hell of a good investment to me.


Sounds good but it's that kind of thinking that leads to the current situation (I mean this literally) . School is basically glorified babysitting at this point.


I’m sorry. I don’t follow.

I was advocating for more funding to public education so that more children have access to more learning experiences.

I hope that’s more clear.


Sorry, I was trying to say that that people have been adding more funding for generations and it keeps getting worse.

Example: declining student enrollment, increased spending https://www.fraserinstitute.org/article/per-student-spending...

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/quickfacts/2016...


It’s not getting worse, though.

Canadian provinces’ public schools are ranking in the top 10 of world countries.

https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/provincial/education.aspx

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-40708421

As an aside, I do not trust the Fraser Institute to be unbiased on the matter of any kind of public spending. Public spending is a essentially against their core values.


Hey, if you're happy with a "B" grade, that explains a lot about Ontario schools :-)


That’s a bit of a dishonest interpretation of the rankings, don’t you think?


All I know is the test results on the tdsb website were pathetic. Not sure about this other stat you're using.


> What you see with the teenager in question is a small town with decent enough resources

Everything bar the geo-specific things (sailing,planeterium) come from the same money pot for every school in Ireland (ROI) and are pretty much the same for most schools countrywide. The more disadvantaged an area your school is in, the more resources(a la funding/support) it gets.

This extends outside school to community. The most disadvantaged/crime-ridden communities get the most government funding(local sports/after-school activities/local community centers etc.)


Interesting formula. Still I'm going to bet that this kid is better off than most


Agreeing with you...

""but the government is incompetent/corrupt/inefficient""

There's always some kind of overhead. Open markets and open societies require infrastruture.

Rules, government, lawyers, accountants, judges, cops and so forth are cheaper (for society) than anarchy (laissez faire).

I'd take the Freedom Markets™ advocates a bit more seriously if they offered any kind of alternative. Something a bit more constructive than "taxes are theft!".


> The world is deeply unjust economically.......and I feel stupidified when I see how these programmes aren't yet serious international standards.

It's not really that simple. Taking, by force, from Person A to raise Person B's children is complicated especially if you're worried about justness.


Person's A child won't be held back tangibly if instead of a living on a 100+ million family fortune, that instead it's a fraction of that due to equalization of education efforts. Man cannot be born as equals when one child could buy their entire university, while another cannot even afford basic living.


And what happens to society as a whole when we abandon a person's right to own the products of their labor? What happens when highly productive people decide they have better things to do than go to work and get taxed at 70%?

A lot of people like a carbon tax because it will lower carbon emissions, if you tax productivity it has the same effect. A lot of people like clean energy subsidies because it makes clean energy more common, unfortunately subsidizing poverty often has the same effect.

I'm not saying you're wrong to care, I'm saying it's not a simple problem.


> And what happens to society as a whole when we abandon a person's right to own the products of their labor?

You don't acquire a $100 million fortune by performing 1000x the labor of a person with $100k, you get it by skimming the fruits of a lot of other people's labor.


No, you add value to their labor and in return get to keep some of it.

Or you can solve some previously unsolved problems which allow you to produce better products for lower costs than your competitors. This is how Carnegie, Rockefeller, Walton, Bernard Kroger, Aaron Montgomery Ward, Richard Warren Sears, etc. all made their fortunes. Even modern tycoons like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, etc.

Can they get too much market power and start stealing from society? Absolutely, that's why we have anti-trust laws. But to see a fortune and assume a theft is to fundamentally misunderstand economics.


> No, you add value to their labor and in return get to keep some of it.

How much value? Who determines how much you get to keep of it? These are highly charged political questions that have driven a lot of economic history!

> But to see a fortune and assume a theft...

I never said theft. I responded directly to the idea that people vast wealth is merely "the fruits of one's labor." And I stand by this statement: it is not, it is the fruit of many people's labor.

> ...is to fundamentally misunderstand economics.

I suppose I should tell my economics professors.


>A lot of people like a carbon tax because it will lower carbon emissions, if you tax productivity it has the same effect.

It's not the same situation, so there's no reason to think it'd have the same effect.

A carbon tax's effect would come from opportunity cost. A company stops a behavior because of a carbon tax when they've found something more profitable. The tax just shifts the line of "more profitable."

But what's somebody going to do if you tax their wealth more? They only "other opportunities" are leaving the country or having more free time. The first is definitely a risk to consider, but the second seems unlikely for the class whose income comes from just investing their wealth. Why not invest, even if the profits are smaller?


Taxing something makes it less common. Doesn't matter if it's carbon, cigarettes, sugar, productivity, or investing.

Tax investing and that shifts the line just like a carbon tax, except in this case the people investing are more likely to start buying politicians or sending their money overseas. Those things don't benefit society like having them fund the research and diligence necessary to find and invest in the next Google, the next Target, or the next energy revolution.


Here you begin to sound like you’re equating productivity to income.

There are many companies that produce little real world value, yet tons of income.


Reminds me of my friend who, when asked about this girl he's been dating lately, listed all her accomplishments(she has perfect pitch, good job etc.).

I think the author of this piece values these accomplishments more than the guy in question.


For what it's worth, I noticed that a similar list of accomplishments appears on the guy's own website: https://www.fionnferreira.com


...and a photo of him accepting an award from Vint Cerf.

inadequacy intensifies


He's pretty driven all right. Good luck to him. Actually it says on a youtube video that he is half German and half Portuguese though his parents gave him an Irish forename!


Yes, it's a tabloid style account so it lists the accomplishments that are more readily recognisable to a wider readership.


> had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

I could somewhat deal with the rest with a shoulder shrug, but this one is what makes it too hard to swallow :)



Yep. Someone from my high school also got a planet named after him, but I think it was from ISEF.


As an Irish person, I feel both proud of his work and saddened by the fact that our own university research system is so lacking he has to move abroad.


Well, don't take it bad.

Ireland has like 5 million people? How would it have/support an adequate university research system to support a top-tier talent?


Ireland's per capita level of funding for research has been lagging badly behind the European average, though. It's really a cultural problem: R&D doesn't happen here, except in rare cases. It's not really down to the size of the population: in the 19th C we had Hamilton and Boole, the world's largest telescope in Birr, Grubb telescope manufacturing in Dublin, and the Titanic was built in Belfast in the early 20th C. But independence, for better or worse, saw the Republic kind of divesting itself of technological stuff—it didn't match the national image, and separating from the UK meant that the communication and exchange of technical knowledge became an exception rather than the norm.

So it even has to do with the protestant/catholic divide (science and manufacturing was something "they" did). It's a very painful story, and a lot of Irish tech people have a chip on their shoulder (narcissistic injury) because of our backwardness.


I would also argue that the successful way that Ireland has brought big companies to the country hasn't yet resulted in the spin off of benefits that the presence of such companies has had in other areas.


> brought big companies to the country

Unfortunately, these companies were brought over by accountants, not engineers..

In so far as, Ireland gave them an opportunity to target EU market (& tax deals) which meant their staff is mostly non engineering (customer service/finance/legal).

The big mistake Ireland made (back then) was not ensuring some of their core business functionalities _had_ to be present in Ireland (i.e. engineering)

A lot less new tech companies built by accountants and customer support staff compared to engineers.


Has Ireland really brought big companies to the country? Honest question. I'm only aware of big companies having their accounting department there for taxation purposes.


Apple set up their first base outside the US in Limerick, which now also boasts the likes of Analog Devices (Limerick was where the current CEO started out), who actually do a lot of design and manufacturing there. Dell also used to have a massive presence, mainly making keyboards and the likes. Also I think something like nine out of the top eleven pharma companies worldwide have manufacturing facilities in Ireland, mainly in Cork I believe.

These are just a few off the top of my head, but the history is really interesting. A good bit of it has to do with Shannon, which actually served as inspiration for Shenzen believe it not!

I've been tempted to write up this history for quite a while because it's not really well known, and even despite being in STEM myself was quite surprised when I found out Analog Devices actually do design and manufacturing here and were making chips for Apple and Waymo!


Google, for example, have over 7,000 staff in Ireland. I know of at least 9 buildings in Dublin it owns/rents.


Size is not all. Ireland, Norway, and Denmark, being small countries of similar population, all somehow managed to have a similar amount of nobel laureates than China or India.


You may be familiar with a certain Linus Torvalds.

Finland has a population of 5M.

Granted, he moved later, but that's a counterexample for the first ~30 years at least.


I read recently a survey about European wide research grants and we came bottom. Well outpaced by similar sized, smaller and/or less wealthy countries like Denmark, Finland, Estonia etc.


Superstars exist, dude. The only actionable view is to improve on the current you. Sometimes there will be things you're not good enough to do or that you don't want enough to practise enough.

I can't ollie a board. Such is life.


if you actually want to learn how to ollie, it's very achievable. just try to commit some time to it every day. it's a weird motion to get used to at first but once you understand what it feels like to pop the board the right way you never lose it.


Yep. I learned to ollie at like, 26? It's just scary because as a 15 year old you don't care about falling as much.


Depending on circumstances, speaking 3 langs could be completely normal


Yup, in Europe is not uncommon.


In Africa, 3 is pretty much the minimum number anyone can speak


Well, in Europe that would be an easy 10-15% of the population...


I don't think inadequacy is the strong emotion I'm feeling. It's probably more relief, or some sense of hope. I wish this sort of youthful experience was more the norm the world over. Outside of the curator and minor planet part (which are very much out of the ordinary for obvious reasons), many of these other characteristics match up pretty closely with high achieving students I saw grow up around me in my own youth. I very much agree with a sibling comment that "This reads like a figurative kick in the face to those who argue against free education and social programmes."


>Ferrier sat his Leaving Certificate exams last month at Schull Community College and is due to attend university in the Netherlands.

pretty normal to graduate high school and attend university

> works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium

I don't know what responsibility this holds how he got the job so it's hard to say.

>has won 12 science fair awards

I don't know the award scheme so hard to say. Even if he won 1st place 12 times, a science fair is hardly difficult to win since you are basically competing against semi-motivated highschoolers.

>speaks three languages fluently

This depends on the language. Some people get 2 languages for free from home and learn another to fluent level in high school. Not really a mind-blowing accomplishment.

>plays the trumpet at orchestra level,

This is really the only one that required consistent effort.

>had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory."

meh

Out of all these, the only thing I wish I had is the ability to play the trumpet.


Luckily the young dude has no need to prove himself to you, and hopefully he never reads this comment.

Being engaged enough as a teenager to win stuff, have a job, become actually fluent at languages (Irish high school does not make you fluent), do your grades in music, and choose then qualify for a university outside Ireland - none of this is easy or the "default" that is expected of children growing up there.

The default is you either stay in the town you grew up in or attend one of several major Irish universities free of charge with a bunch of your friends. After which you get a job in one of the bigger cities, maybe emigrate for employment reasons, or indeed head on back to your home town anyway and look for work there. That's normal.

You're doubtful of this kid's accomplishments but you have no context for the surrounding culture or how hard these things might have been for him individually.

I grew up there. It's not easy to stick your neck out and try to achieve things or be interested in success as a teenager in a rural school in Ireland.


attend one of several major Irish universities free of charge

Those days are long gone thanks to the neo-liberals.

Impressed by this guy's accomplishments. His parents and environment are doing something right.


In case anyone is confused: although the "fees" are covered under many circumstances you nevertheless need to pay a "student contribution" "service charge" of around 3000 euro at most institutions. So, it ends up being the same as fees were a few decades ago anyway.

A lack of popular support for the truly free education movement (some name like FEIS if I remember correctly) while it looked like the Celtic Tiger was going to provide every Irish(wo)man with a rental property in Bulgaria led us to this pass.


We didn't learn much about him from this comment, but we learnt 1-2 things about you :)


Tangent: I have a hunch that the Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube, or something based on it, could be used to separate or just concentrate microplastics from water.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex_tube

> The vortex tube was used to separate gas mixtures, oxygen and nitrogen, carbon dioxide and helium, carbon dioxide and air in 1967 by Linderstrom-Lang. Vortex tubes also seem to work with liquids to some extent...


Like a constant flow centrifuge, amazing ... but water is not so compressible, will it separate out based on dissolved solids effecting the density of the solution? It could be used to reduce salinity in that case, no?

I would think if no ones figured out desalination via vortex, filtering otherwise seems unlikely


Removing dissolved salt is different to removing suspended microplastics though.

There's lots of work done already on removing suspended particulates from liquids, eg https://petrowiki.org/Removing_solids_from_water#Desanding_h... .


In extremely focused on under ground pumped hydro energy storage using derelict mines as core infrastructure, and I think you just gave me a very big idea. Any interest in discussing this concept?


I'm not an engineer. I doubt I could contribute anything.


Maybe it was the cynical in me, but I wonder why those "teenager will save the world" relates are so popular (but often show so few results at long term). Some awards seem just a way to pose, borrow some good ideas, obtain a photo and a cover page and this is all.

Will be interesting to see how this ends


It is a really nice science fair project. However, the concentrations that he used seem really high compared to what would be in the environment or even in wastewater. So conjectures about scaling this up for practical use seem to be the usual pro forma pitch that projects often have.


Granted this was many years back now, but when I was familiar with the Westinghouse Award world there was invariably an adult scientist somewhere in the background pushing a research agenda.

Go to any R1 university and talk to the postdocs, they are the same teenagers with ten to fifteen more years of knowledge under their belts.

That's not to say there is no such thing as prodigy, but they tend to be in a few fields where it is possible to substitute sheer raw brilliance for knowledge of the literature (e.g. certain subfields of math) and they are extremely rare.


Because in reality the teenager's mental output isn't higher than a random adult engineer.

But people just think "amazing" when a teenager does something, because people now have very low expectation for teenagers.


Teenagers also tend to have all the time in the world for hobbies, relative to working adults.

I'm a firm believer that in order to reach virtuous levels in anything, you really need to take advantage of your teenage years to nail down the fundamentals.

I'm a musician myself, and spent almost every day between ages 13 to 20, often up to 6 hours a day, practicing and playing my instrument. Way more often than not, when I meet very talented people in different walks of life (music, tech, sports, etc.), it's the same story.

Teens also tend to have a very naive optimism and ambition / drive. Nothing is impossible, and no-ones gonna stop them. I think you need that no-breaks mentality to succeed.

And lastly, people naturally root for young people. The next hope, and all that.


I disagree. Your teenage years are just your first opportunity to "master" a skill. If we take the 10000 hour rule as an example it takes 5 years of continuous effort. Between the age of 12 and 18 there is plenty of time for that. After that you go to higher which lets you master your second skill. After that you go to work and master your third skill and so on.

The only difference is that during your teenage years you get to choose. There is no pressure to get a "useful" degree or find a high-paying job.

Something obvious: Just because you have these opportunities doesn't mean you automatically take advantage of them and become virtuous. A lot of people waste their opportunities in exchange for something else.


> If we take the 10000 hour rule as an example it takes 5 years of continuous effort.

While your point about about teenagers having lots of discretionary time to become better at what they choose to pursue is very valid, the 10,000 hour rule is a distortion of the findings of a study on accomplished violinists. It is not broadly applicable. The tradition of violin playing has hundreds of years of teaching and quantifiable and measurable performance indicators. Other fields, not so much.


I did a lot of programming in my teenage years, and i think that gave me a head start i am still enjoying today. But when i was a teenager, we didn't really have the internet at home, so picking up a programming book and having a go was amongst the easiest and most enjoyable distractions available to me in the summer holidays. I do wonder, if i was growing up again today, whether i would still do that, or just spend all my time on Reddit.


"Because in reality the teenager's mental output isn't higher than a random adult engineer."

This is why I think more companies should embrace skunkworks projects/time. Imagine if some of the best engineers around the world were given time during the day to work on some hard problems they wouldn't necessarily be thinking about. I'm sure we'd solve some problems pretty quickly. Instead engineers are working on extracting more eye time for ads.


The question then is why aren't more adult engineers in those awards (shrug). Maybe they know better and assure to patent their product/idea/project first to exchange it for a pat in the shoulder and a little gossip exposure to show your mum. Dunno...

For this guy the effort investment will be very profitable at least. I'm honestly happy for him (but a litte baffled that they still look for multitask superheros able to play the tuba. Why we would want a girl/guy, able to clean the ocean, spending one single hour of their precious time learning the baby elephant walk instead?).

It seems that the number of "don't apply if you are not young" job offers in science is increasing in any case.


The award is only open for kids aged 13 to 18, so it's hardly surprising.


> they still look for multitask superheros able to play the tuba

I don't think the prize takes his tuba skills into account at all. It's just that very driven people take to be driven in their various interests.

That said, one reason to prefer tuba-playing ocean cleaners might be to avoid those that will burnout before reaching the goals.


There's also good societal reason to encourage teenagers like this to undertake another 4-8 years of difficult education to become those random adult engineers.

Showing them "hey what you can do with your mind is valued by society" might help do that.


So the product that they are tring to sell here to adolescents is "science courses" and science itself is just an excuse (in those cases). "See? You could be like this guy and be a happy tuba player, sportsman and superscientist all in one" and all of that. This would explain a lot of things... :-)

... and for most of the participants, here comes the surprise...


> At present, no screening or filtering for microplastics takes place in any European wastewater treatment centres.

This seems to be a hole that needs plugging. Regulations that prohibit the use of this stuff altogether would be even better.


> Regulations that prohibit the use of this stuff altogether would be even better

A lot of microplastic is from textiles. If you ban all sources of microplastics you'll be back to wearing only wool, cotton, silk, linen, and leather.

A lot of the remainder is from plastic single use containers. Instead of banning them they could simply be returned to the shop from which they were bought for recycling as is done for most drinks containers (both plastic and aluminium) here in Norway.

Banning plastic bottles would mean a substantial increase in energy use because the alternative is glass which is much heavier and more costly to recycle. Perhaps we could switch to aluminium for more containers.

It fashionable now to complain about the deliberately created microplastics like those used in cosmetics but the vast bulk come from wear and tear on what are now effectively traditional materials.


> If you ban all sources of microplastics you'll be back to wearing only wool, cotton, silk, linen, and leather.

what would be wrong with that? i'd be all for it.

it's also possible to make plastic containers and bottles reusable.


This stuck out as strange to me since they defined microplastics as <5mm. If you run water through sand it would filter things this large, and that's a common wastewater treatment practice.


I think it's messed up that soaps shampoos and other items are even allowed to contain micro plastics when we know the damage they cause.



Also, Fionn Ferreira’s winning fair entry: https://www.googlesciencefair.com/projects/2018/2c3f6207b15f...


"Microplastics or microbeads are mostly used in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs to exfoliate skin..."

So, wait... If we just stopped using microplastics in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs we'd mostly stop dumping microsplastics in to the environment?

But we don't because we'd rather have this totally optional, cosmetic benefit?

Humans are so stupid.


The article is correct only in the sense that that is the purpose of many manufactured microplastics, and the teenager's quote hints at it: "The method used was most effective on fibres obtained from a washing machine and least effective on polypropylene plastics".

I strongly think it's the majority, though I don't have a source, that most microplastics come from wear and other sources. From consumer sources, microplastics come from synthetic fibers and wear from regular plastic products, among others.


According to this [1] source, only about 2% of microplastics are due to cosmetics. The majority are from synthetic textiles (35%) and tyres (28%).

[1] https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documen...


I felt good about buying cotton tees which need less laundry due to hydrophobic and silver ion coatings. But they contain a bit of lycra. And they are hard to recycle. What should I buy instead?


Maybe could consider hemp clothes? Do your own research though as this could be a terrible suggestion. Hopefully others will comment on the (in)correctness of this suggestion


And they told us it's all our fault by using plastic bags...


Microplastics aren't the only plastic related problem.


Microbeads are already banned in many places. The United States for example banned it back in 2017. But there are many governments that haven't caught up to it yet.


Ocean microplastics come from trash being beaten into tiny pieces by waves, wind, and radiation from sunlight, not really exfoliating beads, straws, or glitter.


Source please.

Only the pieces that are visible enough to be still recognizable make it into photos in news articles. The real data is very different, especially when you are looking for the micrometer-sized plastics that end up killing fish or getting into bottled water.

Also I noticed the term "microplastics" is used for two different things - one are fragments of plastic size 1-5cm, the other is the size of glitter particles and smaller. It is the second one that's more of a concern.


not OP but

https://www.zmescience.com/ecology/pollution-ecology/the-dow...

pretty much a google search away


AFAIK Most micro plastics come from your washing machine’s water every time you wash something with plastic in it


In the US, we stopped two years ago: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/us-bans-microbeads-from-...

There are still a lot floating around though.


Even if you want the cosmetic benefit of physical exfoliation, we don't have to use plastic -- you could just as easily use sand or salt and get the same benefits.


... except the extra dose of estrogen mimicking chemicals, (that for women could be an extra bonus "feeling like a woman", etc).


Is not so simple because now we know that some animals can generate microplastics also so even if we stop dumping any microplastic right now, the stuff will keep being generated continuously for an awful lot of time.

... and what kwhitefoot said about textiles.


Absolutely. I agree with you. The only way to do thing in a good maner is to stop using plastics. We have the technology and the talent enough for find an alternative for every single use.


It's one of the many, many sources of microplastics. Others include:

Anything made of plastic, because it deteriorates over time.

Tires with synthetic threads, as another HN poster mentioned recently.

Plastic shoes (most shoes in western world)

Glitter and car paint


I am awed by the teen and his accomplishments to date. But serious question: how can this be used in vivo, say in the ocean?

The magnetite left behind seems toxic also. When I saw it being dropped in the water, I wondered how the fish are going to survive all that.

Microplastics that settle to the bottom of the ocean might be collected somehow. The rest are dispersed by ocean currents in a vast, vast volume of water, especially colloidal plastic. How would we have enough magnetite to do any of this?

I really hope there can be some plastic-eating bacteria that will break down microplastics and won’t get out of control and create a worse problem

https://www.popsci.com/bacteria-enzyme-plastic-waste/

However we as a society must switch away to biodegrdable plastics! Why haven’t we done this for decades, same as with electric cars? Governments are unwilling to use pigovian taxes and tariffs to subsidize eco-friendly alternatives.


The idea is you treat waste water with this before it goes out to the ocean.


I may be wrong, but my impression was that he envisioned this to be used in waste water treatment, rather than in existing environments.


It is unclear whether biodegradable plastics break down fully to non-plastic products or whether their breakdown produces microplastics, unfortunately.


I am pretty sure magnetite gets dissolved in the ocean already at some concentration


This seems like it should deserve way more attention than Ocean Cleanup.


It should not be a competition about anything, instead all the efforts should be supported to solve the plastic issue, from reduction of use to clean-up.


What do you mean "all the efforts"? The global economy is 80 trillion dollars a year. Should all of that be focused on various ocean plastic projects?


Bright kid. If he's going to study something related to hydraulic engineering, he'll very likely accomplish good things along this line.


Young entrepreneurship at its best


the system tries to breed heroes, but that's not how they're made.


[flagged]


Honestly, almost every one of these 'teen finds...' story are very sensational and clickbaity. Eventually it turns out to be something already known, absolutely cannot scale, way too costly for any practical purpose, nothing related to the headline etc


This one is better than most because what he accomplished is a very good science fair project, and that's what he's being lauded for. The fact that it has some potential to be developed in to a real world solution is just icing on the cake.


The article cites he will go to uni in the Netherlands. Why not MIT/Harvard/Stanford/Oxford/Cambridge?


The stereotype goes that the Dutch have forgotten more about hydraulic engineering than other countries have ever known. There is a grain of truth in this. If he wants to continue his current work then the Netherlands is one of the best places.

Plus many Europeans don’t want to go to the US. Not for anything more than a vacation. This view has strengthened over the last several years.


Why not in the Netherlands? They have great universities.


Depends if his objective is form a future network of C-suite acquaintances (Harvard, Oxbridge), or to learn science (MIT, Netherlands).


Sure, but why? What harm do these things do?

I know, lots of articles are published that cite one another. But none of them have any actual harm documented. They just vaguely refer to one another with "It's well-known that these things are harmful" and then cite another article that says the same thing.

It reminds me of 'solar roads', another hyped-up internet sensation based on nothing.


There is evidence that earthworms fail to thrive in soil containing microplastics (but it is not quite clear why)[0]. That then has knock-on effects for soil health and farming.

[0]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/12/worms-fa...


Actually, that showed that some microplastics also helped earthworms. So a mixed result.

So, a graduate student and half a dozen flower pots are the sum total of evidence driving this hysteria?


We do not know the consequences yet. But that is partially what makes it scary. Having no idea what consuming all this plastic (animals in general, not just us) will do mixed with it being extremely widespread makes it a very scary situation. These are clearly foreign objects being forced into our environment in ways that haven't been seen before. Cleaning up the issue, and working out the side-effects should go hand in hand.

We could possibly be having an effect on our environment directly with our actions and we are trying to figure out how to stop it. Solar roads is more of a fad "solution" to the issue. Microplastic is the problem.


Everything that exists on Earth such as oceans, jungles and all animals took millions of years to develop without having microplastics inside of them, to even suggest they are not harmful would requiere extremely strong evidence to prove such an external interference on such delicate equilibrium inside bodies does absolutely nothing. And by the way many articles do not cite each other and have original research on the subject:

https://www.ecowatch.com/microplastics-hurt-earthworms-too-2...


One study, then. And that earthworm citation again! One tiny, tiny study of half a dozen flower pots doesn't seem to warrant global furor. And the study returned mixed results, with some earthworms apparently helped by microplastics.

There's sand of every size, everywhere. To show another kind of sand is of importance requires some evidence.


Evidence suggests microplastics in water pose ‘minimal health risk’ (bbc.com) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20766496


Right:

"The WHO says the evidence suggests that all larger plastic particles, and most of the smaller ones, simply pass through the body without being absorbed at all"


Having trouble finding a reference but I recall that they used to comment on how certain pollutants stick readily to plastics.

So while the plastic might not be absorbed, can we say the same thing about what’s stuck to the plastic?


That's where the FUD comes in. With no evidence of any kind, everybody can get excited as they like about the possibilities.

Science involves measuring things. So far, all that's been measured (unreliably) is that these things exist.




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