Researchers accidentally develop a material that may help fight water shortages

nanorods moisture
Solvent cavitation under solvo-phobic confinement in action S. Nune et al, Nature Nanotechnology, 2016
When science experiments don’t go as planned, the result can be devastating. For chemist Satish Nune, engineer David Heldebrant, and post-doctoral research associate David Lao of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), however, the result was an astounding material that sucked moisture right out of the air.

The material consists of solid, carbon-rich nanorods, which David Lao created accidentally. When Nune began to investigate the material, the nanorods lost weight with increasing humidity. He assumed the weight loss was due to an error in the vapor analysis instrument he was using, so he placed the material under a high-power microscope and took another look.

At that moment, Nune observed a phenomenon known as “solvent capitation under solve-phobic confinement,” which makes the tiny rods ooze fluid. This didn’t make sense. And maybe no one would have believed the result had the researchers not quickly hit “record” and captured a video of the event. But the phenomenon they witnessed wasn’t altogether unexpected — it was actually theorized 20 years earlier, according to PNNL.

Nune and Heldebrant published a paper on their discovery in the journal Nature Nanotechnology this month.

The video might not seem like much, but the discovery holds great real-world potential. “Now that we’ve gotten over the initial shock of this unforeseen behavior, we’re imagining the many ways it could be harnessed to improve the quality of our lives,” Heldebrant said in a PNNL news release.

Some of those ideas include water purification systems for developing countries, low-energy water harvesting for arid regions, and anti-sweat fabric that could suck up sweat and expel it as vapor.

Before the researchers get overzealous, Nune points out that they have a lot of work to do in order to manage the material and develop it for real-world applications. “Before we can put these nanorods to good use, we need to be able to control and perfect their size and shape,” he said.

One-fifth of the world’s population currently lives in regions that suffer from water scarcity, according to the United Nations. Another fifth live in areas that lack infrastructure required to transport clean water safely. And it’s only projected to get worst.

There is a great need for solutions to this global issue, and we can hope that these nanorods will be ultimately able to play a role in supplying people in need with adequate water. In the meantime, it’s vital that we plan and fund projects to solve water scarcity, one sip at a time.

Emerging Tech

Does a steam-powered spacecraft hold the key to exploring the solar system?

A newly developed spacecraft prototype capable of using steam as a propellent may help the first miners survey potential dig sites and identify space rocks best fit for mining missions. Future versions may be fitted with sensors, allowing…
Computing

DLSS is finally arriving in games, but how does Nvidia's super-sampling actually work?

Nvidia's new DLSS technology is exciting, but what is it and how does it work? It's not quite anti-aliasing and it's not quite super sampling. It's a little bit of both and the end results can be impressive.
Mobile

Google insists it’s doing what it can to purge Play Store of malicious apps

Google's efforts to provide a secure and safe Play Store for Android users resulted in the company rejecting 55 percent more app submissions in 2018 compared to a year earlier. But the challenge is ongoing.
Mobile

Buying a Galaxy S10? Here's how to sell your old Galaxy phone

If you’re preparing to upgrade to a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S10 or S10 Plus, then you will want to turn your old Galaxy into cash. Follow our guide on how to sell your old Samsung Galaxy for the best results.
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Computing

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.