Heroes

2 brilliant scientific inventions that could clean up oil spills for good

Before dealing with the root cause, let's keep our oceans clean.

2 brilliant scientific inventions that could clean up oil spills for good

Every year, millions of gallons of oil enter North American oceans.

While 60% comes from oils that exist naturally under the Earth's surface, 8% of that oil comes from oil spills. And those oil spills need to be cleaned up.

Empa — otherwise known as the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Sciences and Technology — and Ohio State University are currently researching two promising solutions to clean up oil spills.

1. Empa's nano-fibrillated cellulose

Yep, that's a mouthful, so to put it in easier words: Empa is working on creating a sort of sponge that is created from materials with cellulose (like straw or recycled paper). But unlike straw, it only attracts oil, so it doesn't end up removing water from the ocean.


It's not any ordinary sponge. This sponge is out of this world:

"In laboratory tests the sponges absorbed up to 50 times their own weight of mineral oil or engine oil. They kept their shape to such an extent that they could be removed with pincers from the water. The next step is to fine tune the sponges so that they can be used not only on a laboratory scale but also in real disasters." — Science Daily

A superhero sponge? I want to see this in action.

2. OSU's nano-coated mesh

Now this one isn't as cute as a sponge, but it's still incredibly rad. It's a stainless steel mesh that filters water but attracts oil.

The OSU scientists studied a lot of different surfaces — like butterfly wings and shark skin — before they came upon the ultimate inspiration: The lotus leaf.

See both of these brilliant solutions in action:

Oil spills are terrible. And while we work to stop one of the root causes (human use of fossil fuels), we can also keep our oceans clean, thanks to the brilliant folks coming up with innovative ways to fight back.

Support science so we can get better at cleaning up our environment!

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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