Small Plastics, Big Problem: Anna Du ’24 Battles Microplastic Pollution

In recognition of her work for climate awareness, Anna Du ’24 was recently featured on ABC’s talk show “Good Morning America.” On the show, Du presented her remotely operated vehicle (ROV), designed to detect microplastics on the ocean floor.

Du has been working on her ROV, named Nereid Jr., since eleven years old. According to Du, the idea behind the ROV first arose when she noticed small plastics in the beach sand while collecting sea glass for jewelry. Through her passion for engineering, Du created a robot that could detect and raise awareness for ocean microplastics.

“When I was beginning my initial research project and had learned about microplastics… I realized that there [weren’t] a lot of people talking about it. Back then, when you searched up plastic pollution, you got things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or big plastic islands, but I noticed that not a lot of people were really talking about the smaller microplastics,” said Du.

Du’s experience on “Good Morning America” marks her first appearance on live television. On air, Du explained the robot’s detecting system, which utilizes an infrared camera to spot the unnatural colors of microplastics. 

“Ever since I started working on my remotely operated vehicle and learned about the issue of microplastics, I’ve always really wanted to spread the word about it. And I really can’t even count the amount of times that people have told me that microplastics aren’t that big of a problem, it’s not that big of a deal. And so getting the chance to raise awareness on this, that we really have to be doing something about it now, was something that was really incredible to me,” said Du. 

In addition to “Good Morning America,” Du’s robot has been spotlighted by NBC, Smithsonian Magazine, and Mission Magazine. Alicia Zhang ’24, a friend of Du’s since elementary school, commended Du for the dedication to her project. 

“Anna’s a really kind [and] hard working person, [and] she really cares about what she’s doing. I like talking to her about what research she’s doing even if I don’t really know what’s going on, but it’s fun to hear her talk about what she cares about… Seeing her on ‘Good Morning America,’ I was literally freaking out in my German class because I was like, ‘This is so awesome. She’s so amazing,’” said Zhang.

Beyond Nereid Jr., Du hopes to employ artificial intelligence and technology to explore other problems in the environment. 

“Recently, I’ve been using…artificial intelligence in my projects to basically create a simulation map that predicts where microplastics are located. Something I really want to do moving forward is to not only spread the word about plastic pollution and microplastics, but also about how we can use these different technologies, especially artificial intelligence, and how we can use and apply that to all the different world crises that we’re now facing, like climate change,” said Du.

Considering the prevalence of plastic in peoples’ daily lives, Du emphasized the importance of mindful plastic. She reminded the Andover community of the environmental impact of their actions, urging them to reduce plastic waste.

“As a person who, inevitably, [is going to] have to use plastic, it was coming to terms with…[and] learning about how I can mindfully mitigate the problem of plastic pollution… I think there’s a lot of small things that people take for granted. I know a lot of people like to use single-use plastics. They use it once or twice, and they might think that it’s not a big deal. But if everybody in the world does it, it really adds up. Making sure that we’re using reusable materials as much as possible, recycling whenever possible,” said Du.