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May 31, 2023

Heavy Metal Sponge

In a laboratory at Northwestern University, NSF-supported researchers have created a nanomaterial coating that can allow a commercially available sponge to be used for removing heavy metals from contaminated water.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Water is essential for all life on Earth. But drinking water can get contaminated at many points between the source and you. What if there was a safe and inexpensive way to remove dangerous heavy metal contaminants from water? We'll explore in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Consuming heavy metals can lead to a wide range of health problems, but specially coated sponges may point towards cleaner water in the future.

NSF supported engineers from Northwestern University have developed a new nanomaterial coating which, when applied to a cheap, commercially available sponge was able to remove toxic lead and other heavy metals.

The sponge was coated with high-surface area nanoparticles which were able to filter lead from contaminated water to undetectable levels with just a single use.

When rinsed with a lightly acidic solution, the sponges were able to be reused multiple times and the contaminating materials recovered for other uses.

This approach is flexible and has potential for use in a wide range of absorbent materials and can even recover the valuable heavy metals left over from mining and recycling.

This lab's nanotechnology has already been licensed by a start-up company for large-scale environmental remediation efforts leading to cleaner water for you and your loved ones.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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