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Asia Minute: Chinese robot fish could help the fight against microplastics in the ocean

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There could be a new and unlikely ally in the continuing battle against microplastic in the ocean. Researchers in China say they’ve made progress on a project that is showing promise when it comes to getting plastic out of the water.

Scientists at Sichuan University in southwest China believe they have a better idea when it comes to getting microplastics out of the ocean.

They call it a robot fish. It’s made of a material that’s chemically similar to mother-of-pearl — and it’s designed to absorb microplastics as it moves through the water.

The entire creation is about half an inch long.

It’s self-propelled — powered by a tiny light laser system in its tail. That allows it to move around at about the same speed that plankton drift in the ocean.

Researchers at the Polymer Research Institute at Sichuan University say the chemical composition of the robot’s material allows it to absorb bits of microplastics — and latch onto and carry many times its own weight.

If you’re thinking all of this sounds too good to be true, this news does not come from Chinese national media or from a government announcement.

This is published research in a peer-reviewed professional journal called “Nano Letters” — produced by the American Chemical Society.

Yuyan Wang, one of the lead authors of the study, cautions that research is still at the level of proof of concept — the current robot only works on the surface of the water.

The next step for her team of scientists is to develop a model that can go deeper into the ocean.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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