Plastic Kills

Experiment testing how efficient ferrofluid is in cleaning micro-plastics in water. Two bases, one consists of oil and iron oxide and the other consists of glycerin and iron oxide.
Jordyn Wilkins
Grade 9


If we compare an oil-based ferrofluid to a glycerin-based ferrofluid to extract the microplastics in the ocean, then the oil-based solution will work more efficiently because the oil is more non-polar than glycerin.



Our earth is engulfed in water, our planet is about seventy percent ocean. The bodies of water on earth are home to numerous magnificent ecosystems that include fish, mammals, bacteria and plants alike. The health of these ecosystems is crucially essential to all organisms on the mainland because aquatic systems play a key role in determining the wellness of environments everywhere. Ocean plant life provides around fifty percent of the world's oxygen in spite of being located underwater. Various organisms on the mainland live off of oceanic life in many ways, one instance of this is pelicans feeding off of fish. Oceans are vital to humans as well; they are a critical piece of our economy and provide our society with a variety of resources including seafood and important minerals like salt and iron. There are a large number of people whose occupations depend directly on those resources, especially in the oceanic regions. Marine ecosystems provide all systems with great resources.


What could cause our aquatic ecosystems to collapse? One current issue is the plastic waste that we empty into our water systems. Plastics take 1000 years to biodegrade, over those years they appear in the earth's valuable underwater ecosystems. Specific plastics include conventional plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. When these plastics enter the ecosystem of the oceans, the animals tend to consume the plastics, mistaking them for food. The digestive system of organisms struggles to break down these microplastics, creating digestive blockage. Poisonous chemicals in the plastics integrate into the animal's bloodstream, thus creating severe blood intoxications in the organism. Plastic garbage also destroys the habitats of these marine organisms, primarily by crushing or obscuring the path of these habitats. Often when the habitat is another organism, the plastics can do enough damage to wound them resulting in death; an example of this would be coral reefs. There are a plethora of times where animals get snagged or caught on plastics, which can cut off circulation and can even choke the animal. Despite fatal complications primarily affecting sea life, the dangers pass on to the human population over time.


Similar health problems arise in humans, like in marine organisms. On a lower scale, humans consume plastics, which can create related digestive and blood issues. Humanity often accidentally consumes the plastics which are hidden in common products like plastic water bottles and toothpaste. Plastic water bottles have plastics that come from the bottles themselves. Microplastics are purposely combined with hygiene appliances to improve the product. For example, micro-beads are mixed in with toothpaste to scrub off stains on the tooth's surface. Additionally, seafood may contain traces of plastics or chemicals that have passed through their digestive system, comparable to indications of mercury found in seafood. People across the world are attempting to make innovations or educational groups to end the use of plastics in order to stop marine pollution.


Microplastic is a serious problem and thousands of people are concerned, therefore several technologies and organizations are being invented. Ocean clean-ups have become a popular method for cleaning oceans across the globe. These clean-ups are organized by groups like Oceana. Other groups such as 4Ocean recycle the plastics and sell them instead of having to search for a new place for the waste. Scientists are working excruciatingly hard to discover a solution for the microplastic problem, many have come up with possible solutions although, the majority of these innovations have contradicting properties that solve one problem by creating another. Other successful ideas require time and resources that are inapplicable in the amounts needed. Governments have played roles to end plastic pollution, like Italy banning plastic bags on the report of NACS Daily. Celebrities and influencers participate in minor activities like spreading awareness or taking part in ocean clean-ups. Even the smallest acts can make a change in this current world issue. 


I am attempting to take my part in plastic pollution by creating a non-oil-based ferrofluid to use to trap the plastics and extract them from the water. I am inspired by Fionn Ferreira, an Irish teen who discovered a method of trapping microplastics in ferrofluid, stated by the World Economic Forum and ABC News. According to Ferreira, ferrofluid is a magnetic liquid frequently crafted from vegetable oil and iron oxide. Ferreira mentioned that he likes to find another substance to replace the oil in the ferrofluid. Ferreira said that it was due to the crude oils negative impacts in our oceans today, although vegetable oil may not have as many harmful effects. Vegetable oil also biodegrades slow, especially in water. Vegetable oil is hydrophobic which is one of the reasons it floats on top of water instead of mixing. Hydrophobic means that the substance repels water because it is non-polar. Non-polar substances have electric charges evenly distributed across the molecule, which is why it repels water. Plastics are also non-polar, so when they are in the water the plastics tend to stick the oil because they have no other place to move. Because vegetable oil is hydrophobic, it could cause issues like blocking sunlight, thicker water which could be hard to swim through, and the growth of aquatic plants. For my project, I have to find a weaker non-polar substance for the plastic to stick to. The substance also had be ecofriendly and biodegradable.  


In my research, I discovered glycerin. Glycerin is an organic substance often derived from plants, this means the substance is safe to use in the water. Glycerin has a larger density than vegetable oil, which means it might sink and be hard to collect. Food products, skin products, and some medications contain glycerin. Certain hydrocarbon chains have glycerin which means the substance non-polar. Glycerin not as hydrophobic as vegetable oil and is biodegradable. The hydrophobicity of glycerin may cause the product to be less successful than the oil because it is lower.



Manipulated variable: the ferrofluid base (oil vs non-oil bases in ferrofluid) 

Responding variable: If the solution mixed into the water clear the microplastics or if the solution does not raise with to the magnate

 Controlled variables: Amount of oil to iron oxide, amount of olive oil, amount of iron oxide, amount of water, time for stirring, time for olive oil to rise to the surface, the temperature of the water, source of water, the strength of the magnet, amount of microplastics



1. Create the polluted ocean simulation using a quarter teaspoon of PVC plastic and 2 cups of water. 

2. Created my ferrofluid in a petri dish using 1 tablespoon of oil or glycerin and half a tablespoon of iron-oxide

3. Combine the ferrofluid in the water. 

4. Sink magnate into the water and around until all of the ferrofluid is collected. 

5. Repet test 5 more times for each ferrofluid base




The glycerin based ferrofluid left murky brown water, most likely due to the iron-oxide mixing with the glycerin. Some of the plastic still remain after each test but not many. Little iron-oxide remain at the bottom of the beaker. The ferrofliud partially seperated in the water and after stirring.

The oil based glycerin left clear water. 2-4 microplatics remain in the water. Some iron-oxide remain at the bottom of the beaker. The ferrofluid stuck together much more and created bubble like formations, even after stirring. 




50% effective

90% effective

50% effective

75% effective

75% effective 

75% effective 

50% effective 

80% effective

75% effective 

75% effective


In conclusion, the oil-based ferrofluid was more effective than the glycerin-based ferrofluid by 19 percent. Glycerine also creates darker waters which could blur eyesight for organisms underwater. I would like to do tests in the future about the biodegradability and hydrophobicity of both substances to see the long-lasting effects of glycerine and oil in water. Glycerin could be used in darker or dirtier sources of water where organisms have already adapted their vision to navigate in the water. However, the oil could be used in most circumstances with careful extraction of the oil. 


My experiment could help extract plastics from the ocean. This is important because oceans provide food and medicine. Plastics destroy habitats and kills animals that consume them. Plastics also kill aquatic plants, which makes up 50% of the world's oxygen.

Sources Of Error

The number of times I stirred should have been taking into consideration as a variable because it separated the ferrofluid more. I also would have like to do more tests to see if my tests remained consistent. If I were to do the test again, I also test more variations of plastics, as I only tested PVC.


“The 4ocean Bracelet - Every Purchase Pulls a Pound of Plastic from Our.” 4ocean,

“5 Incredible Organizations That Are Making the World's Oceans Cleaner.” Goodnet, 8 June 2014,

Beaudry, Frederic. “Microplastics: What They Are and Why They're Bad.” Treehugger, 21 July 2019,

Fleming, Sean. “Meet the Teen Science Star Using Magnetic Liquid to Remove Microplastics from Water.” World Economic Forum, 17 Jan. 2020, 

“Home - PMC - NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

Jacobo, Julia. “Irish Teen Invents Method to Remove Microplastics from Ocean, Wins $50K Google Science Fair Prize.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 2 Aug. 2019, 

NACS Daily. “Italy Enacts Plastic Bag Ban.”, NACS Daily, 14 Feb. 2020,

Reports, Consumer. “You're Literally Eating Microplastics. How You Can Cut down Exposure to Them.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Oct. 2019,

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Are Microplastics?” NOAA's National Ocean Service, 13 Apr. 2016,

“What Are Microbeads In Toothpaste?” Oral Health and Dental Care,

OpenStax. “Microbiology.” Lumen,,water%20molecules%E2%80%94they%20are%20hydrophobic.&text=As%20mentioned%2C%20the%20polar%20heads,the%20nonpolar%20tails%20are%20not.


Laura Wilkins, Aaron Wilkins


No Log Book Provided