Inspired by loofahs, a new material makes clean water more accessible by purifying it sustainably, quickly and affordably. The new invention is a hydrogel made from poly(N-isopropylacrylamide), a heat-sensitive polymer also known as PNIPAm that switches from absorbing water when it is cooler to expelling water when it is heated. The gel’s shape is similar to that of the household item, featuring an open-pore structure that benefits from quick absorbency. When sunlight hits the gel, it becomes heated and expels the water it has absorbed; as it runs through the material’s polymer matrix, its contaminants become filtered out. Without expensive components or electronics, the material cleverly utilizes the design of loofahs to create an effective way to provide clean water to places that lack infrastructure or are affected by climate change. Learn more about the critical innovation at INVERSE.
Image courtesy of Xiaohui Xu