By now, plenty of problems that plague the environment have been well-documented. The next step, in the face of mounting evidence, is to come up with some good solutions — a feat that’s easier said than done. It’s a good thing that there are scientists willing to put so much effort into finding those solutions; it’s even better when one of them has something substantial to show for it.

Abby Knight of UC Santa Barbara is a chemist with a bold plan: even though there’s no shortage of plastic in the ocean, her theory is that adding in more can help cure what ails them. To that end, she’s created a stock of grain-sized beads; thanks to the synthetic molecules attached to each one, the beads can effectively pull harmful contaminants like chromium out of the water. In a sense, the beads act like magnets — and ultimately act as purifiers.

In Knight’s tests, the beads were able to remove up to ninety percent of the chromium contaminating the water — a major sign of progress, for sure. At least two issues still remain, of course: how to distribute those beads on a wider scale, and more importantly how to remove the beads from the water after they’ve done their duty. They’re questions that need answering, but the prospects for clean water are looking a little brighter.

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