Using carbon nanotubes and a dash of boron, scientists at Rice University have created a sponge that only absorbs oil. The superabsorbent sponge may not be of much use in the kitchen, but selective sucking of oil could be very helpful in cleaning up oil spills in the ocean. Other perks: the nanosponge is attracted to magnets, so that’s they’re easily controlled, and they’re reusable. At the end of this video, grad student Daniel Hashim shows how to extract energy from the oil-soaked nanosponge by burning it. Then you’re left with just the nanosponge, all ready to absorb oil again.
The smallest named unit in the metric system is the yoctogram, equal to 0.000000000000000000000001 grams. (Yes, that’s 24 zeros.) For a scale that can measure differences in mass as small as a yoctogram, which is on the order of the mass of a proton, physicists writing in Nature Nanotechnology turned to the wunderkind of nanotechnology: carbon nanotubes.
Each of us, just sitting in our chairs, is a little heat energy factory. So why not harness that body heat to power our phones and flashlights? Researchers have invented a thin, flexible “power felt” that can be worn as clothes, converting heat into an electric current. Dead batteries are so out in the future.
The thermoelectric fabric is made by stacking layers of plastic insulation with carbon nanotubes, one-atom-thick cylinders of carbon that are showing up everywhere from x-rays to fuel cells. The current version only makes about 140 nanowatts of power, so it’ll need some improvement before it becomes practical.
What’s the News: Scientists have developed a new carbon nanotube device (pictured above) that’s capable of detecting single cancer cells. Once implemented in hospitals, this microfluidic device could let doctors more efficiently detect the spread of cancer, especially in developing countries that don’t have the money for more sophisticated diagnostic equipment. Any improvement in detecting cancer’s spread is important, says MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics Brian Wardle, because “of all deaths from cancer, 90 percent are … from tumors that spread from the original site.”
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast: The process of commercializing a technology like this takes quite a while; the previous version from four years ago is being tested in hospitals now and is may be commercially available “within the next few years.”
Next Up: The scientists are currently tweaking the device to try to catch HIV.
Reference: Grace D. Chen et al. “Nanoporous Elements in Microfluidics for Multiscale Manipulation of Bioparticles.” Small. DOI: 10.1002/smll.201002076
Image: Brian Wardle/MIT