Genius 6th grader invents device that hunts for ocean microplastics

anna du
Screen capture Young Scientist Lab

As one of 10 finalists of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, 12-year-old Anna Du will now get the chance to bring her invention to the seas.

One day while visiting Boston Harbor, young Anna Du noticed bits of plastic in the sand. She tried picking them up, but there was so much, she tells Boston25 News, that "it just seemed impossible to clean it all up."

What's a 12-year-old animal lover concerned about the impact of ocean plastic to do? Get to work on an invention to fix it, naturally.

Which is exactly what Anna has set out to do. And in doing so, she has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Anna Du© Anna Du (used with permission)

Her creation is an underwater device that uses light to detect harmful pollution in the ocean – or, a "Smart Infrared Based ROV to Identify and Remove Microplastics from Marine Environments" – and it does so without harming living organisms. Anna, who cites the silicon semiconductor circuit as her favorite invention of the last 100 years (because of course), loves marine animals.

Anna chose to use infrared in her ROV device because it can help scientists distinguish microplastics from other, nonhazardous materials underwater without having to send samples to a lab.

As a finalist, Anna will get to work with a scientist from 3M to fine-tune her device ... and hopefully transform it into a viable tool to help scientists detect where microplastics are lurking – which may be just about everywhere, but still.

In October she and the other finalists will take part in the final competition at the 3M Innovation Center in Saint Paul. Eventually, Anna says she wants to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study marine-related science. And what does she hope to be in 15 years?

"An engineer," she says, "because I love the ocean and marine animals, and I want to do something to help. In the future, with my engineering, I hope to be able to save people with all of my inventions."

Right on, sister! Saving the world, one 12-year-old compassionate genius at a time.

See Anna and her clever device in her submission tape below:

And you can learn more about the competition and Anna at the Young Scientist Lab.

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