'Impossible' Material Created with Record-Breaking Surface Area: Upsalite

First Posted: Jul 18, 2013 09:35 AM EDT

Surface area is important in materials. It can mean the difference between absorbing vast amounts of liquids or nothing at all. Now, scientists have created a new "impossible" material with a record-breaking surface area. This new structure could potentially be used to reduce the amount of energy it takes to control environmental moisture in the electronics and drug formulation industry, or even clean up toxic wastes and oil from spills.

The new material is made out of magnesium carbonate. Although magnesium carbonate is abundant in nature in an ordered form, water-free disordered forms have been extremely difficult to create so far. In order to tackle this issue, the scientists slightly changed the synthesis parameters of earlier employed unsuccessful attempts. They then accidentally left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. This mistake turned into a success; on Monday, they found that a rigid gel had formed. After refining the technique over a year, they finally created the new material.

"After  having gone through a number of state of the art materials characterization techniques it became clear that we had indeed synthesized the material that previously had been claimed impossible to make," said Maria Stromme, professor of nanotechnology, in a news release.

So what can this new material do? Called Upsalite, this novel material has the highest surface area for an alkali earth metal carbonate--800 square meters per gram. Filled with empty pores, Upsalite can absorb more water at low relative humidity than the best materials presently available.

"This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks and carbon nanotubes," said Stromme in a news release. "This together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications."

The researchers are currently planning to commercialize Upsalite through the University spin-out company, Disruptive Materials.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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