Hordes Of Microscopic Submarines Could Suck Up Oil After Spills


The cone-shaped vessels, one-tenth the size of a human hair, each collect a droplet of oil. With enough of them, oil spills could be cleaned up fast.

Oil spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico can cause intense damage and take years to clean up. Some experts estimate that it will take four decades before researchers know the full extent of the damage, including the 1.1 million barrels of oil that formed surface slicks and tar balls, sank to the bottom, or washed up on beaches.

This year, scientists are reporting development and successful testing of the first self-propelled “microsubmarines” designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities. The report, which appeared in the journal ACS Nano, concluded that these tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil. The study was just a proof of concept, but the researchers hope the technology could make a difference in the future.

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