Inspiring female students to tackle microplastics in urban waterways

04/11/2021 | 3 mins

An innovative solar-powered filtration prototype that effectively removes microplastics from water devised by students from Santa Maria College in Perth has taken out first prize in The University of Western Australia’s 2021 Emerging Engineers Competition.

Run by UWA’s Student Equity program Girls in Engineering and OceanWorks, this year’s contest was focused on the problem of tiny fragments of plastic in urban water ways. 

Designed to introduce female primary and high school students to engineering research and design principles, the competition saw participants plan, design, and develop a solution to reduce, remove or mitigate microplastics entering urban waterways to protect marine environments. 

Santa Maria students

Image: The winning Santa Maria team (l-r): Sienna Pitt, Isabela Fernandes, Chelsea Smith, Ava Scafetta and Lilianna Renton.

On September 3, 68 primary and high school students from years 7 to 10 attended a site visit at UWA as an opportunity to engage with academics to further their understanding of the microplastic issue. 

Dr Renae Hovey and Dr Georg Fritz explained how the use of plastics, even those hidden in our clothes, has increased over time, and consequently it’s impact on marine life.  

The Girls in Engineering team led a hands-on activity on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where students practiced some of their design skills in building a mechanical prototype that could be used to remove plastics from the ocean. 

Environmental Engineer Dr Liah Coggins then led the group on a UWA EZone Hydraulics Lab tour and demonstration.  

Six teams were shortlisted ahead of the final prize ceremony that took place on November 3, presenting their design and prototypes to three industry judges – Gabrielle Pennock (Woodside), Dr Renee Hovey (UWA Oceans Institute) and Voula Terzoudi (Woodside) and an auditorium of parents, teachers and representatives from UWA. 

Second place winners were Holy Spirit Primary School and third place, a home school group. Included in the prize for the top three winning teams was a tour of Woodside’s Robotics and Automation division. 

The competition is open to all schools. To receive updates on the 2022 competition, please register your interest here.

For more information please contact


Media references

Liz McGrath, Media Advisor, 08 6488 7975

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