Researchers have come up with a new technique that can purify contaminated water by shaking out nanomaterials in it. The purification method is so simple it is comparable to shaking a vial of water and oil.

While nanotechnology has numerous applications with a range of uses in electronic and medical devices as well as in beauty products, more useful and innovative ways are waiting to be discovered by scientists and experts in this field.

Tiny nanoparticles and other nanomaterials eventually make their way into bodies of water and pose threats to human and environmental health. These tiny particles known to cause water pollution can be mistaken by fish and other marine animals as food, and this can have implications in the food chain.

The United States is already taking steps to curb the contamination of the waters by these tiny particles using nanotechnology. The House of Representatives has approved the Microbead Free Waters Act, a bill that will ban U.S. companies from making personal care products with tiny pieces of plastics.

Despite these efforts, nanomaterials remain a problem as the measures are preventive given the prevalence of these tiny materials. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that there are over 1,300 different products that use nanomaterials.

For this reasaon, researchers from the Michigan Technology University have developed a technique that provides a simple way of removing almost 100 percent of nanomaterials from contaminated water.

"We demonstrate a universal approach to extract one- and two-dimensional nanomaterials from contaminated water, which is based on a microscopic oil-water interface trapping mechanism," the researchers wrote in their study. 

The process sounds like preparing a salad dressing which involves taking water, sprinkling in nanomaterials, adding oil and shaking the mixture. What makes this different from shaking water and oil in salad dressing is that instead of emulsifying and catching bits of edibles in olive oil bubbles, the mixture grabs the nanomaterials.

The findings of the study showed that the shaking works because of the one and two dimensional shapes of the tiny particles. As water and oil separate following a rigorous shaking, nanomaterials set in at the bottom of the oil, where they are trapped.

"Results indicate that carbon nanotubes, graphene, boron nitride nanotubes, boron nitride nanosheets, and zinc oxide nanowires can be successfully extracted from contaminated water at a successful rate of nearly 100%."

With further studies and experiments, the new method developed by the research team in Michigan may pave way for a technique that would clean the world's oceans at the nanoscale level.

The study was published in the journal American Chemical Society's Applied Materials and Interfaces on Nov. 9.

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