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Upsalite, 'Impossible' Material Believed To Have Many Uses, Created In Swedish Lab

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Simon Ydhag/Uppsala University
Simon Ydhag/Uppsala University

It doesn’t look like much, but scientists from Sweden’s Uppsala University are calling a newly created form of magnesium carbonate an “impossible” material.

Dubbed upsalite, the highly porous material sets new records for surface area and water adsorption, according to a written statement issued by the university. It is expected to have all sorts of applications, from controlling moisture in processes used by the electronics and pharmaceutical industries to sopping up toxins in the aftermath of chemical and oil spills.

“In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process," study co-author Johan Goméz de la Torre, a researcher in the university’s nanotechnology and functional materials division, said in the statement.

The researchers succeeded in making upsalite in 2011 by bubbling carbon dioxide through an alcohol-containing suspension. But it took another year of analysis and fine-tuning to be sure that they had created the “impossible” material.

Upsalite has the highest surface area ever measured for a so-called alkaline earth metal carbonate, according to the statement. In addition, it’s filled with empty pores with diameters measuring less than 10 nanometers.

“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”, study co-author Maria Strømme, a professor of nanotechnology at the university, said in the statement.

A paper describing the research on upsalite was published in the July 17, 2013 issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

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