Rather than the popular medical science field, a group of scientists at MIT have been concentrating on a work a little more friendly to nature. Last week the group published a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology detailing their oil-absorbing nanomesh material.
Rather than using nanoparticles like Rice's oil or water capturing system, MIT's material is actually a mat of potassium manganese oxide nanowires. The nanowire mesh, made much in the same way as normal paper, possesses several properties that make it ideal for cleaning hydrophobic chemicals like oil from water. The physical structure of the mesh allows for a great deal of capillary action, which lets the mesh soak in up to 20 times its own weight in oil.
The material is also benefits from a hydrophobic coating and does not attract water, allowing only the chemicals in a mixture to be captured. According to the authors, the mesh could soak in water indefinitely and will be completely dry when removed, though any chemicals subject to the mesh's other properties will be removed with it. The mesh is also quite durable, and able to be heated safely to above the boiling point of oil, allowing the oil to be evaporated off, collected, and both the mesh and oil reclaimed for further use.
The nanowire mesh is a promising addition to environmental cleanups. Not only is it a highly selective material, making it very efficient, due to its composition and production methods, bulk manufacturing should be quite inexpensive. In addition to spill cleanups, the mesh could be employed in simple filters to remove pollutants from water systems. Though reclaiming the captured chemicals may not be currently feasible for consumers, filters could be collected and recycled by outside organizations.
The group has also published a short clip showing the mesh in action (FLV player required).