Scientists accidentally discover nanorods

The discovery could have significant impact on water harvesting technology. Incidentally, fresh water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource.

What is funny is that accidental discoveries have sometimes disproportionately large impact. Scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have come to discover through a botched experiment that carbon-rich nanorods are ideal materials for harvesting water in dry climates.

Much to their surprise, when the relative humidity is below 50%, the rods trap water between their gaps, however this is not the case when the atmosphere has high humidity, in which case the rods expel water as vapour.

This very unusual trait is caused by water condensing into a “bridge” in the nanorods, whose surface tension forces them to close and eventually force the water out.

If scientists can coax the nanorods to force out the water on a consistent basis, the implications could be massive. Currently only 10%-20% of nanorods do that right now.

The nanorods can help harvest water in regions that are water starved, as the nanorods could gather ambient moisture and provide it in sufficient quantities for us to drink.

The other uses could be moisture wicking clothing, the nanorods could be sewn in with fabrics. They will then be able to soak up your perspiration and force it on the other side of the fabric for eventual evaporation.

Essentially, if companies can capitalize on this breakthrough, humanity will be able to have a degree of control over harvesting water from the atmosphere.

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