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Gizmorama - April 13, 2016

Good Morning,

There's a new solution in the works for cleaning polluted water - it's a team of tiny microbots. That's right, microbots! What are microbots?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists program microbots to clean polluted water --*

STUTTGART, Germany - Testing proves a team of tiny microbots are able to remove the majority of heavy metal toxins from water.

When deployed, the swarm of microbots removed 95 percent of the lead from polluted water in less than an hour -- suggesting the process could replace more expensive water treatment technologies.

"This work is a step toward the development of smart remediation system where we can target and remove traces of pollutant without producing an additional contamination," Samuel Sanchez, a researcher with the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, said in a news release.

Industries like electronics manufacturing and mining are largely to blame for the presence of contaminants in local waterways -- toxins like lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and chromium, all of which put both humans and freshwater species at risk.

The microbots are miniature tubes formed by three layers of material. An outer shell of graphene oxide soaks up the lead. A middle layer of nickel allows the microbots to be maneuvered by electromagnetic fields.

Finally, an inner layer of platinum propels the bots forward. When hydrogen peroxide is added to wastewater, it dissolves the platinum. As a result, oxygen microbubbles are ejected out the back of the tube, pushing it toward magnetic north.

"This is a new application of smart nanodevices for environmental applications," Sanchez said. "The use of self-powered nanomachines that can capture heavy metals from contaminated solutions, transport them to desired places and even release them for 'closing the loop' -- that is a proof-of-concept towards industrial applications."

Sanchez and his research partners shared their success in a new paper, published this week in the journal Nano Letters.

*-- 'Self-healing' plastic could mean better bandages, tougher phone cases --*

READING, England - A plastic-like material that "flows" back together when cut or scraped could lead to self-healing bandages and cellphones that never stay scuffed, according to scientists in England.

A supramolecular polyurethane created by scientists at the University of Reading repairs itself at body temperature and is not toxic to humans, suggesting it could lead to better wound dressings, among other uses.

The material was found to be strong enough to survive extreme stretch tests, but when chunks of it are cut and exposed to mild heat, the material's molecules slowly meld back together into a solid piece.

"This material could maintain a sterile barrier as part of a wound dressing while constantly repairing and renewing itself, reducing the need for replacement," Wayne Hayes, a professor at the University of Reading, said in a press release. "It could even be adapted to naturally break down over time, similar to dissolvable stitches, making it suitable for internal use in surgery as well as for dressing wounds."

For a study on the material, published in the journal Chemical Science, the scientists found the material can repair itself at the human body's natural temperature, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The scientists tested the material for effects against human skin cells, finding it had little, if any, difference in effect to cells not exposed to it. Adhesion and self-healing were also successfully tested on pig skin without damaging it, the scientists reported.

In vehicle paint, mobile phone coatings, countertops or any number of surfaces that get damaged, the self-healing plastic could outlast traditional materials, though the medical industry may benefit first as Hayes calls it "an ideal material for use in healthcare settings."


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