Seth Darling and his colleagues at The Argonne National Laboratory in Illionois have created a brand new material that could revolutionise the way that we combat oil spills in the ocean.
The two biggest issues currently faced by those involved in large scale clean ups are that the sorbents that they currently use struggle to retain a huge amount of oil, and once they have done so, they are unfit for further use. The new sponge, created from silane, addresses both of these problems; it can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in oil and can then be wrung out completely and used again.
Darling and his colleagues must now undertake large scale tests to see whether the material can withstand the demands of use in the deep sea where it must adapt to strong winds and waves.
Chemistry applicants should look at what makes a material oleophlic, and consider why a material that is too oleophilic would be a problem for this particular use. Geography applicants can do some research on the biggest oil spills in recent history and consider the effects that spills have on governments and companies.