That tiny, plastic-looking black cube up there can absorb up to 180 times its own weight in toxic waste without absorbing any water. How? As with just about every amazing and/or inexplicable scientific breakthrough nowadays, the answer is spelled N-A-N-O.
Researchers at Peking and Tsinghua universities, both in Beijing, have adapted carbon nanotubes into a sponge-like material that can be squeezed dry, which sounds like extremely exciting news for the infomercial cleaning product industry. One minor detail:
Since carbon nanotubes are hydrophobic, there's no modification required to make them not absorb water.
For the record, that includes mysteriously blue infomercial demo water, so there goes that. If not absorbing 20 times as much water as its leading competitor, what exactly is this new type of sponge good for? Environmental cleanup, evidently. See, instead of just dropping dispersants into the middle of an oil or chemical spill--which forces the spill to simply absorb into the water--these light and porous nanosponges could float in water and be used to sop up the spill, after which they could theoretically be wrung dry and reused, like so:
The scientists detail their findings in Advanced Materials. It's an amazing idea, but I get the feeling that carbon nanotube sponges, riskily abbreviated as CNT sponges, won't exactly be cheap.
This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.