Oil Spills Could Be a Thing of the Past

Imagine this, there’s a huge oil tanker of the coast of Antarctica. Now the captain sees a small 5 foot iceberg poking out of the water. He pauses for a second and thinks to himself as the first mate asks him what to do next, “hmmm, if I were to try to navigate past it, that will postpone delivery and possibly make me lose my job. Or I could just slow us down to a couple knots and try to nudge past it.” He ponders his choices as he stroked his long gray beard. The last second to make a decision he jumps up out of his slouched position in the captain’s chair. “I got it,” he says loud brave tone. “We’ll lower the speed to 3 knots and just push it out of the way!” He shouts. So the first mate does exactly what is ordered and cuts back on the speed.

As the iceberg approaches everything is tense. Nobody on board dares to move. Not even a breathe was taken as the massive black and red vessel inches closer and closer to the icy nightmare that lies ahead. Then everyone is thrown from where they all stood. The lights begin to flicker as you hear the revolting sound of massive chunks of steel are ripped from the hull. And barrels upon barrels of crude black gold gush out of the ship, back to the ocean from where it came. “Captain, Captain, Wake up!” Screams the first mate; as he comes to the aid of his captain. “We’re taking on water and the water has become pitch black with our oil, what shall we do?” “Call the coast g-g-uard.” Mutters the old captain as he struggles to comprehend what had just happened.

There is oil everywhere. All over the place, you see seals drenched with a sticky substance that they’ve never seen before. The dolphins that were once playing in the wake of the massive vessel are now frantic trying to swim through the now sludgy black water.

The coast guard and green peace have both received the distress call and rush over to the spill. But something new, something never used before is on board of one of the rescue ships. Everyone from the ship is rescued and accounted for. All of a sudden the black crude sludge that is covering the once pristine, nearly untouched waters of Antarctica begin to recede. The crew cannot believe their eyes. By the looks of it, it would cost millions and take years to for it to clean this mess up. But sure enough the oil begins to move towards one of the rescue boats.

What could possibly be happening? Oil just doesn’t disappear into thin air. But thanks to an astounding discovery by Mike McHenry of Carnegie Mellon University and his lab the oil is being directed to one of the coast guard ships. Almost like a bunch of iron to a magnet. But how? It’s a method where billionths of a meter scale magnets are attracting the oil and corralling it to a porous material their also developing that can hold up to 20 times its own weight in oil! Making expensive, long-term oil cleanups can be a thing of the pass thanks to Mike Mchenry.

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