Reusable Glass Nanoparticle Sponge Can Extract Toxins From Water
“Chemist Paul Edmiston has plenty of data to prove how well Osorb, a glass substance, soaks up petroleum, solvents and other organic contaminants.
But he’s most convincing when he mixes motor oil with water, adds Osorb, filters off the swollen powder and drinks the remaining liquid. “It works like a nanomechanical sponge,” he says. “I’ve done trace analysis, and the water’s totally clean.”
A graduate student of Edmiston’s stumbled upon the material while experimenting with molecules for a bomb-detection device. After she added acetone to a beaker of silicas, they ballooned to eight times their normal size. She went straight to Edmiston, asking, “Did I mess up?”
Much to the contrary: The silicas, Edmiston realized, are hydrophobic, so they ignore water but grab both polar compounds (such as acetone) and nonpolar ones (such as octane) out of solution.
The contaminants can be released for disposal or recycling by squeezing the nanomechanical sponge—that is, by applying heat. The swellable glass can be reused more than 100 times.”