The winners of this year’s Lego engineering contest were inspired by nanotechnology concepts to design a robot to clean plastic from the ocean:

For the competition, the students had to prepare a presentation on this year’s theme — nanotechnology, or molecular-size machines.

They looked for a nanotech application that could clean up small, degraded plastic particles rampant in ocean waters.

They found a device invented by professor Ramin Golestanian, an Iranian now working at the University of Sheffield in England, that could self-propel in water. They married that machine with nanoprobes to capture the plastic pollution, built a Lego model of it and presented it to a panel of engineers.

“The judges were blown away,” said Kasi Fuller, a Lewis & Clark College education professor (and Nathan’s mom), who, along with builder Greg Banks, coaches the team.

Great to see kids thinking big about nanotech for the environment! —Christine