Sweden – lab accident creates ‘impossible’ nano material

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Could accidental product be best solution yet for cleaning up toxic waste, dangerous chemicals and oil spills?

UptaliteUppsala University researchers have created an unprecedented material with record-breaking properties. And most remarkable of all, this new material — which was thought impossible to make for over a century — was the result of an accident in the lab.

A research team led by Johan Goméz de la Torre made some slight changes to the synthesis parameters of an earlier unsuccessful attempt to create a water-free disordered form of magnesium carbonate — and they left it in the reaction chamber by mistake! It sat there for the entire weekend, and when the researchers returned to the lab the following Monday, a rigid gel had formed.

Surprised and excited, they dried the gel and studied it further. They soon realized that they were onto something quite extraordinary.

Called Upsalite in honour of the university, the material features a surface area of 800 square meters per gram. It’s got the highest surface area measured for a synthesized alkali metal carbonate. And in addition, Upsalite is filled with empty pores all having a diameter smaller than 10 nanometers.

This means that it can SUPERabsorb — or more accurately, adsorb — more water at low relative humidities than the most advanced materials currently in existence.

Once refined, Upsalite could significantly reduce the amount of energy required to control environmental moisture in electronics and in drug delivery. Perhaps more crucially, the material could be used to suck up toxic waste, dangerous chemicals, and oil spills.

“This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes”, noted researcher Maria Strømme through a release. Indeed, it can adsorb more water at low humidities than the best materials previously available — and with less energy.

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