Laser-Treated Cork Absorbs Oil for Carbon-Neutral Ocean Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2024 – Oil spills are deadly disasters for ocean ecosystems. They can have lasting impacts on fish and marine mammals for decades and wreak havoc on coastal forests, coral reefs, and the surrounding land. Chemical dispersants are often used to break down oil, but they often increase toxicity in the process.

In Applied Physics Letters, by AIP Publishing, researchers from Central South University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev used laser treatments to transform ordinary cork into a powerful tool for treating oil spills.

They wanted to create a nontoxic, effective oil cleanup solution using materials with a low carbon footprint, but their decision to try cork resulted from a surprising discovery.

“In a different laser experiment, we accidentally found that the wettability of the cork processed using a laser changed significantly, gaining superhydrophobic (water-repelling) and superoleophilic (oil-attracting) properties,” author Yuchun He said. “After appropriately adjusting the processing parameters, the surface of the cork became very dark, which made us realize that it might be an excellent material for photothermal conversion.”

“Combining these results with the eco-friendly, recyclable advantages of cork, we thought of using it for marine oil spill cleanup,” author Kai Yin said. “To our knowledge, no one else has tried using cork for cleaning up marine oil spills.”

“Oil recovery is a complex and systematic task, and participating in oil recovery throughout its entire life cycle is our goal.”

—Yuchun He

Read the full story at AIP.


X-Ray Vision: Berkeley’s High-Speed Electrons Fuel Atomic-Scale Science

BERKELEY, California—A group of eager writers attending the World Conference of Science Journalists 2017 stood on an upper platform at Berkeley’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) research lab. Under their feet, electrons raced at nearly the speed of light. Overhead, an iconic domed ceiling—the same ceiling under which Nobel laureate and nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron—endowed a jumbled space full of laboratory pipes and instruments with the airy feel of a giant atrium.

As the journalists enjoyed their visit to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on 29 October, magnets steered groups of electrons around a giant circle, 200 meters in circumference, and released light at 40 different openings. “Think of the electrons as cars with their headlights on,” said physicist Roger Falcone, director of ALS. “As they drive around, flashes of light come out each of those ports.”

Peering into molecules  

At the ends of each of the 40 light beams—in a range of wavelengths spanning the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to both soft and hard X-rays—instruments perform experiments that depend on this constant flow of electrons. The relentless light penetrates materials and allows scientists to study the atoms and molecules inside. Each beam can be tuned to a different wavelength to reveal a particular element or molecule. Scientists use the beams to study everything from how the crystallographic structure of a new polymer reflects light rays to how a bacterium breathes in the absence of oxygen.

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