Monday, June 2, 2008

Clean Up Breakthrough

Science is pretty amazing.

An international team, lead by scientists from MIT, just invented a "paper towel" constructed of nanowires to clean up oil spills. Apparently it looks, prints and cuts like paper...

"“What we found is that we can make 'paper' from an interwoven mesh of nanowires that is able to selectively absorb hydrophobic liquids — oil-like liquids — from water,” Dr Stellacci said.

“Our material can be left in water a month or two, and when you take it out it's still dry. But at the same time, if that water contains some hydrophobic contaminants, they will get absorbed.”

The membrane is able to repel water because the nanowires are covered with a hydrophobic coating, while the tiny pores in the material are ideal for trapping oil."

You can leave it in water for a month, take it out and it is still dry?
Another cool thing -- the paper towel can be reused -- and so can the oil! The paper traps up to 20 times its weight in oil.
They also think that they can use the stuff to clean up other types of chemical spills.

By the way, according to Wikipedia, "is a wire of diameter of the order of a nanometer (10 to the negative ninth power)" I don't condone Wikipedia use, but every other definition I found was some sort of foreign language you need a PhD to decipher. The negative ninth power.

I learned two other interesting facts about all this. I read the article from the press office at MIT and an article in the TIMESONLINE -- the London paper -- which was largely based on the press release and the original article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. I couldn't go there -- didn't even look it up.

1. This story, as far as I could tell, wasn't reported in America. I couldn't find it in the NY Times -- not even the Boston Globe, where it all happened. Australia and London carried the story prominently -- and some Science and Nature journals.

2. "Some 200,000 tons of oil have already been spilled at sea since the start of the decade."

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