Anna Du grew up with a hunger for knowledge and a passion for making the earth a better place. Now, at just 16 years old, she’s already making incredible contributions to help reduce microplastic pollution!
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It all started when her parents would regularly get her involved in MIT’s student outreach activities on weekends when she was just a child. Here, she learned all about the STEM industry and discovered she has a knack for both coming up with ideas and executing them.
Growing up, she used her talents to enter all kinds of science fairs and competitions, earning herself the title of top-rated female middle schooler in science fairs in the country. One of her biggest contributions, however, has to be the remote-operated vehicle (ROV) she entered into the Broadcom Masters competition when she was just 12 years old.
Inspired by the Curiosity lander that investigates the surface of Mars, Anna made a similar version out of PVC pipes. But rather than being built for space, hers was built with propellers to move through water, something that’s desperately needed to scan the ocean floors.
Most impressively, though, is the detection system. Using a high resolution infrared camera and three different kinds of light, the ROV is able to differentiate between plastics and plant life.
Although Anna’s remarkable invention didn’t win, she hasn’t come close to giving up on her ROV. In fact, in the four years since she entered the competition, she’s made huge strides toward making her invention even better.
“My most recent work that I’ve done is I’ve created a simulation model that uses artificial intelligence in order to actually predict where the microplastics are located,” Anna said.
With 8 million tons of plastic being dumped into the ocean annually, the work Anna is doing has the potential to drastically improve the conditions of our waters and, in turn, our quality of life.
“Small fish eat these microplastics, and then those bigger fish will eat a bunch of those smaller fish,” she said. “By the time that those fish reach our plates, there’s a lot of toxins and a lot of microplastics inside.”
One of the hurdles that Anna and other environmentalists face is making people aware of the issues we face in addition to educating them on ways they can help. That’s why this multi-talented 16-year-old decided to write a book that does both of those things called “Microplastics and Me.”
“Writing for kids her own age, Anna alerts her readers to the threat of microplastics pollution and urges them to care about the environment,” the description reads. “She leads them through the frustrating-yet-rewarding process of design, engineering, and invention. This book could inspire a generation of inventors and engineers!”
As daunting as it may feel to take on such a complicated world-wide issue, Anna’s assurance that we all have the power to make an impact is inspiring not only kids and teens but people of all ages.
“We’re sort of at the tipping point between, like, if these problems are really going to devastate the entire world,” Anna said. “And so I think that if there’s any time to act, it would be right now. Just even make a small change – that’s really important – the first step is really the most important part.”
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