This 12-Year-Old Built a Robot To Fight Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans

All at the age of 12, Anna Du wants to save our planet and she has built a robot, that uses infrared light to help us understand just how badly our oceans are being ruined with plastic trash.

There is something about youngsters and marine pollution. Just a few years after Boyan Slat began his own journey to fight ocean pollution as a teenager, we have an even younger  Anna Du, a talented  12-year-old student from Massachusetts and also one of the 30 finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS competition (Mathematics, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering as Rising Stars). She has devised an underwater robot that could be deployed in the ocean to wage war against marine plastic pollution.

Despite plastic pollution is a notorious problem, which is widely acknowledged and documented, solutions to solve the problem has not yet been deployed on a large scale. While each year around 8 Million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea, it is common knowledge that by 2050 the amount of plastic will outweigh all the fish living there.

The plastic pollution problem has become so widespread that microplastic is now found in freshwater basins and fish ranging in size from 4 cm to 30 cm too. Some of the trash makes it to swirling gyres like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is now thought to be roughly three times the size of France.

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Anna decided to take part in the competition after seeing the extent of plastic litter at the beach. Du put her love for the beach and her passion for the environment to use and constructed an underwater ROV (remotely operated vehicle) that uses infrared LED lights of varying wavelengths to separate microplastics from other particles.

She hypothesized this project would help researchers analyze the ocean floor quickly and inexpensively.

The ROV is controlled by a remote and detects where plastics are in the ocean. Du said she believes it’s more logical to first know where the plastics are and then go directly there to clean them up since the ocean is gigantic.

“This is just a first step in what I am planning to do. In the future I hope to create an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) that goes in the water by itself and doesn’t need anybody to control it,” she said. Working mainly by herself, Du constructed the ROV at MIT in Cambridge. She has been working on it since October 2017.

“I’ve had some tips from my mentors, but I’ve mostly been building it by myself,” she said.

Anna has been attending MIT every Saturday, since she was a five-year-old, to build projects with assistance from staff members there.

The young Turks, like Anna Du, Greta Thunberg or Boyan Slat, from all over the world are taking small but important first steps to address climate change.  They are becoming the harbinger of change with their innovative ways that could help save our planet. On their own level, they carry the hope for this planet and are innovating or inspiring people to bring simple and yet effective ways for help and restore the nature’s balance, which past generations have so carelessly ruined.

Picture courtesy: Anna Du

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