Making a mistake at work is seldom a good thing. Whether it’s spilling hot coffee over yourself before a meeting or sending an insulting email about your boss to your boss, it rarely ends well. Unless you work in Uppsala University, Sweden, where accidentally leaving equipment running over the weekend led to the creation of the most absorbent material known to man. Named upsalite, after the university, the creation is especially impressive as it was previously thought to be impossible. A powdered form of magnesium carbonate, upsalite’s structure is so porous and pitted that it has a surface area of 800 square metres per gram. That is like taking the floor space of a respectable house/flat and crumpling it up until it is tiny enough to be picked up with tweezers. Upsalite is also riddled with pores narrower than 10 nanometres. This means it is incredibly water absorbent, even at relatively low humidity, and keeps water locked up tight. The commercial applications are numerous: sensitive electronics and advanced drug development can be disrupted by the physical and chemical properties of water, as can large-scale food storage units and toxic spills. A cheap and very absorbent material would be just the thing to prevent this happening. Upsalite has all the signs of doing this, and more. Next time you spill something at work, it could be upsalite that is used to clean up the mess – and someone else’s mishap could deal with yours.
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