Scientists create nanotubes that suck water from air

Water is something that’s often in short supply, particularly in dry desert climates. And as we need water to survive, you don’t want to get lost in a desert without any to drink, right? But what if we could create something that collects water from dry air and saves it for you to gulp down later? A group of Rice University researchers have figured out how to do that: with forests of specially designed carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes are handy little structures that we’re just learning how to create and use. They can do some pretty amazing things: from x-raying your body  to boosting your phone's battery life. The Rice researchers discovered that if they’re created in a certain way, they can collect and store water in places (like the desert) that have none.

The researchers started by looking at beetles. In the desert, the Stenocara beetle survives by using its wings, which stretch and capture water molecules from morning fog. After the water is collected, the beetle drinks the water and lives another day. The Rice team decided to create a forest of nanotubes to do the same thing. The top of the nanotubes attracts water from the air. The bottom of the nanotube repels water. The combination traps water inside each tube for later extraction. The best part? This process doesn’t require any energy at all.

Consider areas of the world where water is scarce (and becoming more scarce thanks to climate change). What if we could grow a large forest of carbon nanotubes that collect water from the air? Of course, because carbon nanotubes are so small, it would take a lot of them, and a lot of work, to make something like that a reality. However, it’s not unthinkable that we might be able to create a cup with a nanotube forest inside it, perhaps for those adventurers brave enough to go into the desert alone.

Via Rice University

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