Loofah sponge helped scientists purify water quickly and safely

Scientists have created a new hydrogel with a special structure similar to a loofah. He uses sunlight to

processing large amounts of water at a time. It is enough to meet the daily needs of a person.

Materials known to be sensitive totemperature, hydrogels absorb dirty water at low temperatures, and then release it in a purified form when heated. However, according to scientists from Princeton University, the closed pores of most of these materials do not allow water to be processed quickly enough for the needs of most people.

Microscopic image of a loofah-like hydrogel structure with open pores.
Xiaohui Xu/Princeton University

With this in mind, the authors of the new developmentreproduced the structure of a natural loofah sponge with very open pores. They used a mixture of water and glycol as the polymerization medium to produce a PNIPAm (poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)) hydrogel with large open pores. It is a thermosensitive polymer first synthesized in the 1950s. It can be synthesized from commercially available N-isopropylacrylamide. The scientists then coated the internal pores of the gel with two other polymers, PDA (polydopamine) and PSMBA (poly(sulfobetaine methacrylate)).

The loofah structure hydrogel can be used to purify water in poor regions or in disaster areas.
Xiaohui Xu/Princeton University

The experiment showed that the resulting materialabsorbs dirty water at room temperature and then releases 70% within 10 minutes when heated by artificial sunlight. This was four times faster than the previously tested closed cell hydrogel. In addition, even under lighting conditions simulating partly cloudy conditions, the loofah gel released the same amount of water for 15–20 minutes.

Luffa or loofah is a genus of herbaceous vines of the familyPumpkin. The range of the genus is tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and Africa. The total number of species is more than fifty. They are dried and used as a natural shower sponge.

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Cover: loofah washcloth, Qurren, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons