When disaster strikes, survivors risk being left without one of life's essentials -- clean, drinkable water.
In the wake of the destruction wrought by the 2004
Their solution? A spongelike gel embedded with silver nanoparticles that can absorb impure water, kill bacteria within seconds, and release drinkable water with just a quick squeeze.
"These cryogels not only purify the water in the sense of removing particulates -- and not only make it look good -- but they kill the pathogens," Krantz says. "And they do it very fast."
When tested against Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis -- two harmful bacterial strains commonly encountered following natural disasters -- the gel passed with flying colors.
After 15 seconds in the gel, the amount of bacteria in the treated water was reduced by a factor of between 100,000 and 1 million -- depending on the amount of silver nanoparticles embedded in the cryogel.
And that, Krantz says, is something to drink to.
"In terms of the kind of contaminated water supplies that we encounter in disaster relief operations, it's way more than adequate," he says.
Krantz says just 3 grams of the gel material can absorb and disinfect half a liter of water with one squeeze. And the concentration of silver particles -- long known for their antibacterial properties -- falls well within the limit for safe drinking.
After use, the gel quickly returns to its original form and can be reused effectively at least 20 times.
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"The combination of the cryogel with a high porosity, a very good mechanical and water-absorption properties, and the capacity to disperse a fine preparation of silver nanoparticles can be a very promising device to provide water purification in [case of] emergency," Cirillo says.
The researchers say personal-sized gel treatments would cost less than 50 U.S. cents each and that emergency-aid workers could easily deliver them by airdrop in places where contaminated water is found.
Cirillo, however, notes the gel will need to be tested on pathogens in the field to make sure it works in practice.
Krantz says the research team is currently eyeing
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,
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