Scientists Accidentally Create World's Best Water Absorber

Make 'impossible material' after leaving equipment running over weekend

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 17, 2013 6:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – Sometimes screwing up a science experiment isn't such a bad thing. Case in point: Researchers in Sweden accidentally left their equipment running on an experiment over a weekend, and ended up creating something awesome—Upsalite, the world’s most efficient water absorber, reports the Independent. This substance, prohibitively expensive and difficult to produce until now, can potentially do everything from controlling moisture on a hockey rink to cleaning up toxic waste and oil spills, reports Science Blog. This "is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications," says nanotechnology professor Maria Stromme.

Scientists have been trying—and failing—to cheaply create a dry, powdered form of magnesium carbonate since the early 1900s, earning it the nickname the "impossible material." Turns out, all they needed to do was use the same process they've been attempting for more than 100 years, but at three times the atmospheric pressure. When the scientists at the University of Uppsala inadvertently did this, they returned to the lab Monday morning to find a gel had formed. When heated to more than 158 degrees, that gel "solidifies and collapses into a white and coarse powder," they report, per Phys.org. "It became clear that we had indeed synthesized the material that previously had been claimed impossible to make," says Stromme. (It's not the only amazing discovery reported this week. See the best of those here.)

Upsalite
Upsalite   (Simon Ydhag, University of Uppsala)
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